At this point I should note that I have a confession to make. I have not seen any Hitchcock movies with the exception of The Birds, which was also based on a du Maurier short story. This, added to the fact that I love disaster movies, should completely demolish the notion that I am a film reviewer to be taken seriously. I have never seen Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, etc. I think perhaps watching classic movies should be one of my resolutions for 2011. I enjoy reading classic novels and so I should apply the same thinking to movies, rather than auto-piloting to the “New Releases” section in the rental shop.
Anyway back to the subject matter at hand. Rebecca is an enduring story; the narrator (referred to only as the second Mrs de Winter) relates the story of her early days as a young gauche bride to Maximilian de Winter, a wealthy man who owns Manderley, a lavish home in a West Country estate. The sinister housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, is loyal to the previous Mrs de Winter, a beautiful charismatic woman who died in a boating accident some years previously. The second Mrs de Winter feels insecure in the formal aristocratic milieu and Mrs Danvers exploits this, constantly making her feel second best when compared to Rebecca, who encompassed the three qualities of a good wife; brains, breeding and beauty.
Having been a huge fan of the book I was interested to see if the film adaptation was faithful to the novel and I believe Hitchcock perfectly captured the foreboding atmosphere. Joan Fontaine (sister of Hollywood star Olivia de Havilland) is instantly likeable as the second Mrs de Winter and the legendary Laurence Olivier creates a sympathetic portrait of Max, who can come across as distant and inscrutable in the book.
Although it could be a curse to say it, I’d love to see a new version of Rebecca come to our screens. The novel has undertones of sexual promiscuity, homosexuality and murder and understandably the film, at the mercy of 1940s morals, had to play down these elements. In fact the denouement of the film differs from the book in one crucial way. Given that filmmakers are less constrained these days it would be interesting to see a 2011 cinematic adaptation.
However I would be even more interested in seeing a prequel to the movie; a film which would explain Rebecca’s origins and her motivation, and give us an insight into a fascinating character we know very little about. A literary prequel has been published, which was endorsed by the du Maurier estate, but I found it enormously unsatisfying. Rebecca is a complex and intriguing woman and she deserves better than the overblown melodrama created by Sally Beauman. I think a new history for Rebecca should be written and committed to film. I nominate Angelina Jolie for the lead role and think Darren Aronofsky would be a great director.