Written by Daphne du Maurier and published in 1938, Rebecca is a classic English novel that follows the narration of an unnamed protagonist who, whilst working as the companion to a rich American woman vacationing in Monte Carlo, meets a wealthy widowed Englishman named Maxim de Winter. When he suddenly proposes her hand in marriage, she agrees to accompany him to his mansion, the beautiful West Country estate Manderley, but soon finds that the memory of his first wife, Rebecca, still maintains a grip on her husband and the servants, especially on the housekeeper Mrs Danvers. Haunted by her memory, a mystery that lives on even after Rebecca’s death begins to unravel.
Set to be released next month, the film adaptation is directed by Ben Wheatley and will star Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter, Lily James as Mrs de Winter, and Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs Danvers.
The following post is a review of the book only, looking at how it is going to be adapted. You can read my review of the film in comparison to the book once it has been released.
Daphne Du Maurier‘s Rebecca is my favourite book of all time. Beautifully written, the story is centred on two of the most humanly complex characters ever written, begins with one of the most memorable opening lines in literature, and ends with an intensely powerful image.
A mysterious and gripping story, Rebecca grips you from the first sentence, with the famous opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” From that point on, we join a nameless narrator in a nail-biting journey full of suspense.
Told in a first-person narrative, the story is told in the form of a flashback as the narrator retells her story of overcoming personal insecurities, discovering one’s identity amid social pressures and expectations, and what the meaning of true love really entails.
Looking back at her time at the beautiful mansion that is Manderley, we’re told that something drastic has happened as the narrator comments that she and her husband can never go back. But what? As she goes on to detail what is primarily a love story, as a reader you find yourself impatiently waiting for something to go wrong. You know that her world is going to come crashing down at any minute, but what will be the final hit?
As much as it is a classic romance, Rebecca is also a gothic tale full of secrets and human flaws, about how they can take over but can be overcome at the same time. The narrator faces these struggles constantly, and Du Maurier paints her character so well that you can feel the pressures from those around her, as you experience every pinch of doubt but also every growth in confidence for yourself.
Incredibly atmospheric, Rebecca is an immensely haunting read. Just like Manderley itself, the story is beautifully written and engaging, but it is also surrounded by a dark mystery that shadows over every happy moment. It’s not often that a book is named after a character who doesn’t make an appearance in the story, but through Du Maurier’s poetic narrative you are made to believe that Rebecca’s ghost could appear at any minute, as you can constantly feel the strong presence that Rebecca still has over the household and everybody that resides there.
The book’s first-person narrative means that you get to know every worry and struggle that goes on in the narrator’s mind. We constantly know what she is thinking, which is rarely the same as what she is acting out, as she often wonders about what Maxim would be doing if she wasn’t there and how Rebecca would be doing certain things differently. It is this narrative that makes Rebecca’s presence in the book so strong, with the added focus of knowing what’s going on inside the narrator’s mind allowing us to see the massive effect that Rebecca is having on her.
Du Maurier’s writing style throughout is so engrossing that you become captivated in this personal growth that the narrator goes through. There’s so much to relate to in her insecurities and social awkwardnesses, and the theme of identity is handled brilliantly, so much so that every twenty-something reading this book will see something of themselves in the book’s central character, despite the substantial social changes.
But Rebecca isn’t just a love story or a mystery or a haunting gothic tale; it even delves into the realm of crime fiction, as the investigation and trial at the end of the book take it onto a whole new journey. It is at this point when the more interesting twists and turns come into play, and in these final chapters of the book that we are filled with the most suspense, as the story could easily go in any direction. The lead up to the closing few lines, as well, will have your heart beating ten times faster than the climactic revelations that occur before them.
Rebecca is the definition of classic literature. If you ever feel bogged down by popular fiction, get your hands on this book and it will remind you exactly why reading can be one of life’s best pleasures. Ensure that this is a book that you read at least once in your life.
With the book having been famously directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940, this latest adaptation needed an impressive director attached to it to appeal to a new audience. And while Ben Wheatley may not be the most recognisable of names, those who know him will be excited by the director taking on such a well-known classic.
What makes Wheatley such a fitting director for this film is that he loves a story with dark undertones. He’s known for directing Kill List (2011), Sightseers (2012), Free Fire (2016), and High-Rise (2015), all of which have something sinister about them. High-Rise was an adaptation of the 1975 novel by J. G. Ballard so Wheatley obviously knows how to handle an older and widely praised text, too, so I’m looking forward to seeing his take on this classic story.
The screenplay for the adaptation has been written by Jane Goldman, who often works with Matthew Vaughn having co-wrote the screenplays for Kingsman and its sequel The Golden Circle, as well as X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past, Kick-Ass, and Stardust.
Her first solo screenplay was The Woman in Black (2012) and she also wrote the script for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, two book adaptations with a darker edge. I have enjoyed all of these films and especially enjoyed her adaptation of Miss Peregrine and Stardust, so I’m certain she’s going to do just as good of a job with this adaptation.
Armie Hammer is set to lead the film as Maxim de Winter. He first came to our attention when he played both of the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, and his since impressed in films such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Call Me By Your Name. He’s also soon set to star in the upcoming adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death On The Nile. I personally struggled to enjoy Hammer’s performances in his early career, but he has recently become an actor that I’m excited to see more of. His performance in Call Me By Your Name, especially, is one of my favourites, and although he’s a lot younger than the book’s Maxim, I think he will suit the role brilliantly.
Lily James is then set to play the nameless lead of Mrs de Winter. Known for British TV dramas including Downton Abbey and War & Peace as well as more recent leads in 2015’s fairytale reimagining of Cinderella, the high-adrenaline Baby Driver, and the Abba musical Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!, James has shown talents in many forms. She’s certainly one of the most exciting young actresses around at the minute and I think she’s going to give a beautiful performance as the delicate but loyal Mrs de Winter.
While the right casting of Maxim and Mrs de Winter is important for any adaptation of Rebecca, fans of the book will likely be looking more closely at the casting of Mrs Danvers. Judith Anderson played the stern-faced character in Hitchcock’s adaptation and was widely acclaimed for her performance, so Kristin Scott Thomas has some big shoes to fill. Known for roles in Four Weddings and a Funeral, The English Patient, and Sarah’s Key, I personally love this casting and think she will do a remarkable job. From the stills that have already been released, as well, she already looks incredibly fitting.
As for other characters, Keeley Hawes (Line of Duty/The Durrells) is set to play Beatrice Lacy, Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale) is set to be play Mrs. Van Hopper, Sam Riley (Maleficent/Brighton Rock) is set to play Jack Favell, and Mark Lewis Jones (Gangs of London/The Accident) is set to play Inspector Welch.
I couldn’t be more excited for this!
Rebecca is set to be released on Netflix on 21st October.
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