Following a whirlwind romance in Monaco, a naïve young woman journeys to her new husband’s lavish estate, only to find the staff still under the thrall of his recently deceased first wife — the impossibly beautiful, charming and charismatic Rebecca de Winter.
Much like Lily James’ unnamed narrator of “Rebecca” — Netflix’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel — director Ben Wheatley seems to feel the constant shadow of impossible expectation looming over him.
After all, a 1940 take on the book (directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine) won the Academy Award for Best Picture and was recently inducted into the United States National Film Registry.
Sadly, although Wheatley’s lavish period piece opts for a more faithful retelling of du Maurier’s novel than Hitchcock’s, the 2020 version of “Rebecca” has none of the sophistication, charm or simmering tension of its Oscar-winning predecessor.
Lily James and Armie Hammer (as the supposedly suave Maxim de Winter) certainly look the part, but their blossoming relationship lacks substance and neither of their character arcs feels organic or believable.
Indeed, only Kristen Scott Thomas (as the steely housekeeper Mrs Danvers) dazzles, dominating her scenes with equal parts charm and menace as she gradually reveals the depth of her fondness for Maxim’s first wife — and her disdain for his second.