Book vs. Movie: Rebecca (2020)

Hello, my darling readers!
I recently wrote a post talking about how the Alfred Hitchcock movie Rebecca compares to the Daphne du Maurier book it’s based on. Well, it just so happens that somebody at Netflix thought that what we desperately need is another adaptation of this novel, so here we are. Let’s talk about the 2020 version!

The Plot (according to Goodreads):

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

Book vs. Movie:

Ooof, there are a lot of things wrong with this adaptation. It doesn’t work and I can clearly spot why. While they try to keep close to the story, the changed some little yet integral aspects that just take the wind out of this film’s sails. I won’t do another full review on the book since I already did that in the other post I wrote, but I want to highly several of those tiny yet important moments very the story deviates.

Let’s begin with the casting of the two main characters. Personal thoughts on both Armie Hammer and Lily James aside, I’m sure either of them is a very fine actor, but they were both not suited for their roles. Why, you might ask.
First of all, the age gap or rather lack thereof. In the original story the second Mrs de Winter is barely in her 20s while Mr de Winter is in his 40s. It is often discussed in the context of the novel how inappropriate this is and how everybody around them frowns upon it. It also is reflected in how he treats his young wife and how she reacts to many things (we’ll talk more about that in a bit). Well, in real life, Hammer and James have an age difference of a whopping 3 years. In the movie they kind of erased that there was supposed to be this giant gap, which just makes many scenes really weird. A lot of the behavior was supposed to originate from this difference and as I said it is important to the story. By whiping this out many moments loose their impact.

As for Lily James, she is charming – which is a problem. Her character is very young, very awkward and completely lost in this new world she finds herself in. She doesn’t nearly manage to capture that vibe. I guess it is in part due to the lack in age difference but overall they also change her character a lot, again resulting in washed out moments that just don’t hit the spot. She’s too confident, too capable. For example, in this film she drives a car. I kept wondering, why on earth would she be able to do that, when and where would she have learned that? She, furthermore, wears a ridiculous amount of outfits while in the book it was quite often discussed how she only had old clothes and never really was dressed appropritately. People were confused that after getting married her new husband didn’t buy her a new wardrobe which would have been much needed. I guess, they just really wanted her to look pretty for the film instead. Another thing I noticed was that Lily James wore pants a lot, which lead me to do some research. I immediately wondered if that was a normal thing to do for women in the time the story is set. So, the novel came out in 1938 which means we are in the mid 1930s with this. Apparently women might have worn pants back then but mostly in a work-context. It wasn’t until after WWII that pants became popular with women (or so the internet tells me). That – once more – just goes against how this character was initially conceptualized. She’s not the kind who’s confident enough to stand out, to wear a daring fashion trend – to even wear something that would be considered unusual back then.

While it may seem like cherry picking that I got annoyed with such tiny little details, it just added up to grossly misrepresenting the character. As I mentioned before, the story and the relationship depicted hinged in a large part on the things I described before. Changing those up this substantially ends in an altered story. It would have been fine if they had actually adapted the plot to reflect this. But as it is you can’t try to do the exact same story and expect it to work. It just kills all the potential this film might have had and left me disappointed. While the scenery was lovely and I didn’t have many qualms with the movie in other regards, this was enough to mostly ruin it for me.

I will definitely stick with the 1940s adaptation instead as Hitchcock hit exactly all the notes that were missed here. While the movie sure is pretty to look at, the little fails sum up, culminating in a less than desirable outcome.

Did you prefer the book or the movie? Let me know in the comments!

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3 thoughts on “Book vs. Movie: Rebecca (2020)

  1. Pingback: Wrapping it up for September | The Punk Theory

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