Rebecca review: Lily James plays woman haunted by lover’s first wife in period romance

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"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…"

The immortal opening words of Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel begin director Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of Rebecca.

As with the book and Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary 1940 take, this Netflix adaptation of Rebecca follows a middle class young woman (Lily James) who arrives on the French Riviera in the 1930s to serve the wealthy Mrs Van Hopper (Ann Dowd) but finds her world drastically altered when she meets the charming and hideously wealthy Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer).

A whirlwind romance between the pair results in a surprising marriage and the young woman becoming the new Mrs de Winter.

Armie Hammer and Lily James get up close and personal in Netflix's Rebecca

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After a lengthy honeymoon, the pair arrive at Maxim’s English mansion house of Manderley, where Mrs de Winter finds a home haunted by the ghosts of her late predecessor, the magnificent and beautiful Rebecca, whose memory is kept alive by Rebecca’s loyal maid and Manderley’s housekeeper, Miss Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas).

What secrets lie in Manderley? And does the new Mrs de Winter have a chance of escaping the hold that Rebecca continues to have over her new home?

Most importantly, does Ben Wheatley offer a gripping new take on this well-known source material?

The gorgeous scenery of the French Riviera is an early setting of the film as the future Mrs de Winter falls for Maxim

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Taking his shadowy prologue directly from du Maurier’s novel, director Ben Wheatley transports the audience to a glistening and sunny French Riviera drenched in a golden filter and gloriously decadent decor that looks like something from an ornate perfume advert.

James offers another delicate English rose to her filmography as our heroine, even if she does't quite convince as the dowdy and unconventional love interest that her character is noted as for Maxim de Winter, played as a cryptic dreamboat here by Hammer.

Lily James plays the unconventional new Mrs. de Winter
(Image: Netflix / The Hollywood Archive)

What secret is Max hiding from his new bride?
(Image: NETFLIX)

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The whirlwind romance section of the narrative will likely capture viewers’ attention in its sunny and sensual locale before the narrative moves on to the cold and lofty English country manor of Manderley.

Filmed mostly at the sumptuous Hatfield House but in paler and harsher tones, Manderley is where Maxim’s past and the spectre of Rebecca rears its ugly head.

This unknowable memory kept from the grasp of the new Mrs de Winter is manned by the imposing Mrs Danvers, an iconic character played here less as a downright creepy sentinel for the past and more as a bitchy obstacle of happiness for the couple by an icy Scott Thomas.

Kristin Scott Thomas portrays the antagonistic housekeeper Mrs Danvers
(Image: Kerry Brown / Netflix)

Mrs Danvers delivers chilling warnings to the new Mrs de Winter
(Image: Netflix / The Hollywood Archive)

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Never reaching a true sense of terror or chills that Hitchcock’s film found – particularly with Judith Anderson’s Danvers – there are still some gorgeous images from some of the nightmare sequences set in the manor as the past engulfs the new de Winter marriage.

It is a shame the Gothic element of the film doesn't carry more power, considering the tension that Wheatley offered in his taut thriller Kill List.

Meanwhile, many of the supporting cast members are sadly never given much or a chance to make an impression as they play second fiddle to the lead trio. However, Keeley Hawes delivers a palpable warmth as Maxim's married sister, Beatrice.

The scenery of the Cornish coast once again proves that the visual grandeur of the film is its chief success

As the film builds to a rather uninvolving court case, the visual grandeur of the film’s rugged Cornish coast becomes the true star of the show, proving that the lush appearance of the film is its greatest success. This is aided further by the stylish and period-accurate costumes on offer throughout the entire film.

Ultimately, Netflix’s Rebecca is a glamorous and gorgeous period drama to escape into but there is sadly not an affecting Gothic dark heart to this adaptation of a du Maurier classic.


Netflix’s Rebecca is a serviceable period romance that is exceedingly pleasing on the eyes but fails to provide a truly gripping a take on Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic masterpiece.

Rebecca is released in select cinemas on October 16 and released globally on Netflix on October 21, 2020.

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