Review: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – Book vs Film

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Spurred on by the new Netflix adaption of Rebecca, I raced to read this haunting gothic classic.

I have one word: wow.

I had put off reading this classic by Daphne Du Maurier for a while because whilst the plot sounded intriguing surrounding the mysterious Manderley, it also sounded like a plot that could quickly lose steam.

It did not (except until the very end of the book).

The story of Rebecca follows an unnamed protagonist, working in Monte Carlo as a lady’s companion when she and her lady meet the aloof widower, Maxim De Winter. Our unnamed protagonist and Maxim enter into a whirlwind relationship whilst living up a life of luxury in Monte Carlo. This ultimately ends in marriage at which point, Mr. De Winter takes his beautiful bride back home to the Cornish coast and most importantly, Manderley.

What follows the rest of the story is a ghost: Rebecca. De Winter’s first wife haunts every page of the book and every aspect of the life of the new Mrs. De Winter. It is clear that when she was alive she was a force to be reckoned with and had a profound presence and impact on everyone she met, which clearly does not stop with the death of her physical body.

The storyline, accompanied by Du Maurier’s writing, is made addictive and hard to put down. The ghost of Rebecca, for the characters and reader alike, always seems oh so close, but just out of reach.

Where the book was feisty and hard to put down, the film fell short of this addictiveness. Ben Wheatley’s indie remake of the timeless classic is entertaining, but perhaps one viewing is enough. The somewhat indie elements adapted into this latest film adaptation were questionable and had the effect of making the viewing experience clunky and jagged. Some shot and scene choices regularly took away from the dynamic effect the reading experience had for me.

Questionable filming choices aside, Lily James and Armie Hammer have dynamic on-screen chemistry that worked extremely well in this film. They both took on the persona of their characters that I imagined from the book. The whole film has a stellar cast who execute their performances perfectly. Whilst reading the book, I could not help but find the protagonist annoying and weak, regularly hiding in the shadows of those around her and feeling sorry for her lot when, frankly, she brought it upon herself. Lily James perfectly embodies the delicate protagonist and how she wrestles with the ghost of her husband’s former wife as well as his withdrawal once arriving back to Manderley.

However, the one huge let down with both the book and the film is that whilst Du Maurier succeeded in keeping up the suspense and momentum of the book, which did translate well to screen, it seemed that in both mediums this came to a crashing halt at the end of the book with the final denouement. At the end of the book and thus the film, after such an explosive and action-driven plot, the final chapter left me with the question;

“Is that it?”

With a cast like James and Hammer, as well as Kristin Scott Thomas and Sam Riley, it is unfortunate that the film did not make more of a splash, but that brings us back to the age-old conclusion – the book is always better than the film.

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