At Manderley, full of intimidating family portraits and grand staircases, they are greeted by a glaring Mrs Danvers, in a severe suit and lush red lipstick. Scott Thomas is the most successful at charting a trajectory for her character. As she gives her new mistress a tour of the house, and the new Mrs de Winter gushes that she has never seen anything like it, Mrs Danvers says, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you’d been a ladies’ maid.” The line is delivered with just enough condescension to be cutting. Eventually, she reveals a possessiveness tinged with madness. Finding the heroine in Rebecca’s bedroom, kept as if she were alive with her nightgown on the bed, Mrs Danvers urges her to touch how soft it is, terrifying the heroine with her intensity. Whether her obsession with the woman she calls “my Rebecca” is erotic or not is, as in all the versions, left to the viewer and not especially hinted at here.
The film sleepwalks through other scenes meant to be tense, though. The heroine discovers an unused boathouse filled with Rebecca’s things, but isn’t nearly suspicious enough. She throws Manderley’s customary costume ball and makes a terrible faux pas. Keeley Hawes enlivens the few scenes she has as Maxim’s sister, a down-to-earth breath of kindness and fresh air.
When the second Mrs de Winter learns the facts of Rebecca’s life and death, we see that she has lost her innocence. As Du Maurier made clear, it is not truth the heroine cares about, but the knowledge that Maxim loves her, a dark ending that this pallid adaptation doesn’t begin to earn.
Rebecca is released globally on Netflix on October 21
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