• Kathryn Houghton

My Thoughts On Rebecca (2020)

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

Photo by Kathryn Houghton

Rebecca showed up everywhere on social media for the duration of October, and the classics community was ablaze with anticipation along with dread. The original novel Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier is loved by many, some claiming the story to be their favorite book they have ever read. We can all understand, then, why people were anxious to see which direction this adaptation was headed.

Whether you have watched this period drama or you’re debating giving it a shot, let’s discuss this movie in more detail.

Spoilers ahead so read at your own risk!

The Heart of the Story

Netflix/ Working Title Films (2020)

Lily James (Downton Abbey) plays our unnamed lead character. She starts off as a lady’s companion to showy Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd, Garden State), who catches the attention of Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer, The Social Network).

With coastal drives and days at the beach spent in Monte Carlo, the two quickly become attached to each other. By the end of the week, Maxim proposes making her the latest Mrs. De Winter. They soon arrive at Maxim’s home inherited from his family, which takes the grand name of Manderley. This gothic manor sits on the Cornish coast, and our protagonist quickly realizes the fun is over once she is settled in. She is haunted by the lingering reminders of Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca. Her monogram seemingly everywhere, and everyone around her comparing her to Rebecca. This would no doubt leave anyone feeling uneasy.

Netflix/ Working Title Films (2020)

Things get worse when our main character becomes acquainted with the housemaid Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas, Four Weddings and a Funeral). Danvers is extremely

loyal to Rebecca, so much so that she doesn’t really seem to care what happens to Maxim or his new bride. In fact, she has a distaste towards the new Mrs. de Winter that leads to her trying to publicly humiliate her any chance she gets. Maxim seems like an entirely different person from the romancer in Monte Carlo- a much more distant man who seems to be vacant from his wife more often than not for the remainder of the film. Which doesn’t do him so good when the audience is supposed to root for him towards the end.

Netflix/ Working Title Films (2020)

It becomes clear when a second body gets pulled out of the ocean with Rebecca’s boat, that her death was no mere accident. Mrs. de Winter quickly finds out that it was her own husband who murdered his first wife. The rest of the film follows their fight with the authorities to prove otherwise, and of course, Mrs. Danvers lurking close behind.

Paying Homage to the Original Work

Netflix/ Working Title Films (2020)

Thankfully, this version of Rebecca is closer to the original work, compared to the 1940s film. In Alfred Hitchcock’s version, Maxim never actually murdered Rebecca. This was due to the Hays Code, which prohibited Hollywood from breaking certain moral rules. Of course, the 2020 Rebecca still has its moments from differing from the novel.

There are a few things that really disappointed me with this adaptation. One being, that Armie Hammer and Lily James don’t have enough of an age gap to warrant 20 some years that the book suggests.

Another is that Manderley didn’t feel.. haunting enough? To me, what makes a good gothic story has a lot to do with the setting. It has to have a presence of its own. A place that leaves you always looking back, scared of what you’ll find. Although the film did a good job making Manderley beautiful, unique, and atmospheric, it was still lacking the suffocating dreadfulness.

The Characters

Netflix/ Working Title Films (2020)

Mrs. de Winter is portrayed as innocent and naive, which is what draws Maxim to her in the first place. This slowly deteriorates as soon as she becomes mistress. There were many times I wish she would’ve grown more of a backbone and take hold of the situation, but I believe that this was the case when reading the novel too.

Lily James played her character very well, and her casting actually felt justified. However, I felt like we didn’t get enough time to see her personality shine through before she arrived at Manderley. I had a hard time seeing what Maxim saw in her.

Netflix/ Working Title Films (2020)

For most of the film, Mr. de Winter just seemed vacant. Towards the end though, he did seem more passionate, probably without the stress that his wife would judge him (and leave him if she was saner) for murdering Rebecca.

At first, as viewers, we are supposed to see Maxim as a charming man who is spontaneous and romantic. But that notion seems to completely change early on. So much so that I’m not really sure what the director wanted us to feel towards him. You can definitely see the similarities between the hero in Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester. A brooding man with a mysterious past.

And then, of course, there’s Mrs. Danvers, who definitely achieved the obsessive devotion to her first mistress. She could be the best character in the whole movie, honestly. She’s chillingly chaotic. At the very least, Danvers made me feel more emotions than the de Winters could, so I have to give her that.

With as much malice as Danvers seems to harbor, you can also just see all the pain that lies beneath. This woman felt a lot of love for Rebecca that Maxim obviously didn’t, so it’s no wonder she has no good feelings for him at all-and didn’t want Manderley’s image to be tainted with a new lady let alone Maxim himself. I almost wish that we could see the whole story from her perspective, see her life before Rebecca‘s death.


Photo by Kathryn Houghton

Undoubtedly, there’s much to unpack in this film. There were multiple times my head was swimming, trying to keep up. As far as cinematography goes, the movie is simply stunning. However, I couldn’t help but feel like it was trying to go in multiple directions. I believe it was intended to be a romantic thriller, but both of those areas felt lacking.

I would’ve liked to see more gothic elements and a stronger presence of Rebecca. I say this mostly due to the almost suffocating presence she takes in the novel. Overall though, you should still give this movie a try because it does shine a light on one of the greatest books of all time. It has fantastic actors and an intriguing storyline.

What I drew from this is the power love can have on two people. Our heroine was willing to forgive so much sin and hardship because she finally understood that Maxim only loved her. There was no longer any fear of having to live up to someone greater. She was willing to stay with him and work through these mountainous problems because they were together and that’s all that mattered.

Comment below what you thought of Rebecca and what you took away from it!

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