There’s a golden rule in Hollywood: Whatever worked once may work yet again. It makes sense, because story lines full of glamour and intrigue tend to appeal to wide audiences, regardless of the era or the prevailing mood. The film version of Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, won the Academy Award for best picture in 1941. When producer David O. Selznick read Hitchcock’s first treatment of the novel, he was reportedly “shocked and disappointed beyond words” at the detours the screenplay would take from the original narrative.
What makes Ben Wheatley’s new Netflix adaptation of Rebecca particularly ripe for our post-#MeToo world is how quickly the relationship between its two protagonists, Max de Winter (Armie Hammer) and his second wife (Lily James), devolves into a battle of control. In Hitchcock’s version, when de Winter proposes, he hisses: “I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool.” The line hangs, because when seen through a 2020 lens, Rebecca isn’t so much a whirlwind romance as it is a study of abuse, and an exploration of female vulnerability in the face of absurd expectations. Produced by Working Title, Rebecca fairly glistens with a cast that includes Keeley Hawes, Ann Dowd, Sam Riley, Tom Goodman-Hill, and Kristin Scott Thomas (as Mrs. Danvers!).
In fact, Rebecca brings to mind another drama currently streaming on Netflix: Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, about a woman so hollowed out by her husband’s lies and psychological warfare that she put a bullet through his head. Let’s hope that Wheatley’s protagonist arrives at a less tragic fate. —Bridget Arsenault
Netflix will release Rebecca worldwide on October 21