Writer Daphne du Maurier is most famous for her seminal 1938 novel Rebecca, the story of a young newlywed who arrives home with her new husband, Maxim de Winter, only to discover his first wife's ghost haunts his house. Part of the novel's fame rose from the Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation that came two years later and won Best Picture after scoring 11 Oscar nominations. (Hitchcock also adapted several of du Maurier's other works, including Jamaica Inn and The Birds, to great acclaim.) The story has been part of the cultural landscape for so long, it's somewhat remarkable no one has attempted to remake the novel as part of the streaming wars before now.
Perhaps it's the big shoes to fill. Joan Fontaine, sister of the late actress Olivia de Havilland, as "the Second Mrs. de Winter," never again played a role that worked so perfectly. It's also hard to top Laurence Olivier as George Fortescue Maximilian "Maxim" de Winter. But Netflix thinks it's found the perfect pair in Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name) and Lily James (Downton Abbey), and adding Kristen Scott Thomas as the terrifying Mrs. Danvers. It also helps that the new adaptation has decided to eschew the famous Hitchcock version altogether.
The trailer hints at Netflix's new direction, but it's the marketing materials pointedly not referring to Hitchcock that tips director Ben Wheatley's hand.
A young newlywed arrives at her husband's imposing family estate on a windswept English coast and finds herself battling the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy lives on in the house long after her death.
Speaking to Empire, Wheatley discussed his attempt to leave behind the Hitchcock version altogether:
It's not, in any sense, a remake of the Hitchcock film, firmly not. Remaking a film is not that interesting to me, but the original source material is. I watched all the adaptations. It's important to see what's gone before, but that's certainly not the focus. I wanted to make something that had more love in it. It's part of trying to investigate other parts of being human. Rebecca has dark elements, and it has a psychological, haunting story within it, but it's also about these two people in love. That was the main thing.
The trailer's focus on the "before" Manderley parts certainly seem to jive with this. Even so, there are hints of Hitchcock floating about the trailer, including the striking image referencing du Maurier's The Birds. Perhaps realizing there is no remaking the film without the inevitable comparisons, Wheatley hopes that other references might help distract. Considering Netflix is positioning Rebecca as a high-profile awards contender, we'll have to see if it works.
Rebecca arrives on Netflix on Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020.