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31 Days of Halloween

‘Rebecca’ (2020) review: Gothic Romance Comes to Netflix

Gothic elements surround the mystery of Rebecca.

Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

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Daphne Du Maurier’s gothic novel Rebecca debuted in 1938. The novel was instantly popular due to its sensational material. For 1938, Rebecca introduced characters that may have been deemed too modern for that era. In a time when gender roles were strictly defined, Rebecca demonstrated the consequences for those who rebelled against convention and the reward for those who yielded to their prescribed roles.

Ben Wheatley‘s adaptation gives a glimpse into the lives of the residents of Manderley using stunning visuals and directorial style. Lily James and Kristin Scott Thomas take command of their characters and give powerful performances. Wheatley’s Rebecca offers an interesting perspective with a great cast, but plays down the more gothic aspects of the story.

The set up to Rebecca is very much a fairy tale. A young nameless girl, who works as a companion to a wealthy lady, meets a wealthy older widower who sweeps her off her feet. They get married and he takes her away to become the mistress of his giant estate. And yet it’s not necessarily a fairy tale life, the new wife is haunted by memories of the former. 

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” the film starts with the same ominous line as the novel, introducing the audience to the imposing estate that is Manderley. Wheatley’s directing shines when we are shown landscapes and scenery. There is a wonderful use of colors that fills the scenes, really amplifying the elegance of the settings. One of the main themes portrayed in Rebecca is that of class differences. The dreamlike look of the scenery heightens Mrs. De Winter’s (Lily James) astonishment and intimidation of her new married world. 

Mrs. De Winter is trying to adjust to her new surroundings and role in a more affluent class, but she is thwarted at every turn by Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers is still fiercely loyal to her former mistress Rebecca. Lily James brings an innocence to the role of Mrs. De Winter. She is instantly engaging and charming, making all the hostility towards her feel even more uncivil. Kristin Scott Thomas brings dimensions to the severe  character of Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers is equally manipulative as well as pitiful. 

'Rebecca' (2020) review: Gothic Romance Comes to Netflix

Written by Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse, Rebecca fulfills many of the gothic tenets. Danvers is a woman full of greed and obsessions. She embodies a person psychologically stuck in the past. One of the scarier aspects of Rebecca is the gaslighting of Mrs. De Winter, however, this isn’t fully realized. While she is haunted by paranoid nightmares, these seem more fueled by her own insecurities. Mrs. Danvers’ abuse seems more like cruel pranks so it feels like there is something missing when the drama takes a turn for the extreme. 

Du Maurier’s Rebecca is rife with mystery and complicated characters. It is entertaining to see how those 1938 characters are realized in 2020. However, the 2020 film seems to play it safer than the original source material.

Rebecca is a Netflix original that premieres October 21st. 

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