A new cinematic retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel counters a well accoutered film to be of a period in its contemporary approach.
Rebecca isn’t a remake of the Best Picture Oscar winner by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940 which starred Laurence Olivier and a persuasively fragile Joan Fontaine immersing herself in the feminine literature.
Here, a lush production emerges from the palatial coastal Manderley residence with stylish work from designer Sarah Greenwood and costumes by Julian Day. They’re complemented by the lustrous imagery of lensing pro Laurie Ross and melodious sounds from composer Clint Mansell.
A new Mrs. De Winter for this version comes by way of Lily James who provides voiceover and veers from the source’s insistence on a needy protagonist. She’s the paid escort of the supercilious, vicious Mrs. Van Hopper (a fine Ann Dowd) at the initial setting of Monte Carlo.
Armie Hammer’s Maxim De Winter is the hardly English-like widower with gaudy suits who finds the young woman alluring as a whirlwind courtship leads to a proposal.
Mrs. Danvers, filled with imperious venom by Kristin Scott Thomas, is the housekeeper who’ll make life difficult as possible for the new missus. Out of a peculiar allegiance to Maxim’s first, late titular one who still casts a shadow over the estate. Not to mention him.
A mystery buffers the narrative in less than compelling fashion based on suspicions aroused on Maxim in an accidental or foul play manner as the machinations of a favorite cousin (a caddish Sam Riley) come into pay. Suffice to say, the law enforcement doesn’t end up in a positive light.
Finally, the steadfastness to du Maurier (in its many incarnations also on small-screen, and studio renderings) turns out to be a transferal into a decisive, leading presence that doesn’t do much for the intended conflict in its arc. The passion isn’t there for James and Hammer as the former fares better in the Lifetime sense of this Masterpiece Theatre.