Rebecca: The Remake of a Classic?
Working Title, a high-quality London-based production company, took on the heroic task of remaking Rebecca, an Alred Hitchcock film recognized as an outstanding motion picture based on the Daphne De Maurier novel of the same name. The original released in 1940 stared Lawrence Olivia and Joan Fontaine.
The remake isn’t horrible but it misses the high mark set by the original. As the remake opens, Max de Winter and his future wife (Lily James) meet in Monte Carlo. The future Mrs. de Winter is employed as a ladies’ companion to Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd) is portrayed as a horrifying, irrepressible hag. Nothing like Florence Bates who played the role of Mrs. Van Hopper in the 1940 film as a self-promoting, sophisticated dowager. In the original, she’s self-involved but not frightful; just plump, past middle age, bossy, and a social climber.
The future Mrs. de Winter is young, pretty and has only book knowledge of the world. At the beginning, Lily James seems like she may be able to carry off a performance like Joan Fontane’s. But alas, she falls short at every turn. The character’s transformation in the 1940 version from foolish young girl to duchess of a great dynasty is completely lost in Lily James’ portrayal.
In the remake, Maximillian de Winter (Armie Hammer) does not seem like the person who needed to escape the spell of his first wife, Rebecca. He seems underpowered and more of a playboy than a proud Duke. His main desire is to bring his new lovely blond wife back to his ancestral home, Mandeley.
He wants everyone in his circle, including the servants, to forget Rebecca the overpowering and beguiling sex goodness. He is not someone with the ability to command his duchy. It’s not hard to imagine what he was like before Rebecca. Something of a coward, I imagine.
Mrs. ”Danny” Danvers (Academy Award Nominated Kristin Scott Thomas) and Rebecca’s cousin, Jack Favel (Sam Riley) had a friendship and were part of Rebecca’s web. Danny was Rebecca’s lady in waiting, best friend and possible lover. They commandeered the duchy from Max and ran it deceptively and unscrupulously. Scott Thomas is mediocre in the role of Mrs. Danvers. The original Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) was right on point. She was always frightening and two steps ahead of the new Mrs. De Winter.
In the remake, Rebecca’s cousin is mostly drole and winy. He has no charm and as the villain in the story, he lacks appeal and grace. Yes, even villains have to attract the audiences’ attention. This Jack Favel (Riley) is sniveling and annoying, not cunning and convincing as the magnificient George Sanders was in the original.
Ben (Ben Compton) is the elderly befuddled man at the dock. Compton is constrained and one-dimensional in the new production. The director missed the power that the character had in the original. The man was flaccid but at the same time knew what was happening with Rebecca. His power was to regularly keep track on the doings of the devious and evil Rebecca. What a shame that Ben lost his powers in the remake. Compton plays his role as if he were playing Bob Cratchit in a dusty old version of A Christmas Carol.
The prosecutor in the original was so compassionate and knowing. He used his position to clear Maxim and set him free. He envisioned correctly that Max did not drown Rebecca so he freed Maxim by ruling Rebecca’s death as suicide intended to spare herself from an agonizing death to cancer.
Hitchcock was at the helm of the original film. “Hitch” easily turned movies great through his hard work from script to screen. Lawrence Olivia one of his many wonderful performances as Maximillian de Winter. He spurns his hateful experience and uses his strong will to make a better life for himself. Joan Fontaine made her nameless character alive and fascinating. Fontane transformed magnificently from a young innocent bride to a devoted and righteous wife. She also ended the evil reign of Rebecca and her staunch defender Mrs. Danvers. In a third excellent performance in the original film, George Sanders played Favell as a gambling rascal with charm and intrigue.
If you’ve seen the original, I wouldn't bother seeing the remake. If you have never seen the original, see it soon. It is one of the finest Hitchcock movies and a classic for all time.