Rebecca is a romance thriller (and kind of horror) movie set in the early twentieth century. And it is a masterpiece of characterization. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our main character is named… well actually we’re not sure. She is unnamed throughout the whole novel and thus movie, going by Mrs. de Winters. Yet without the most basic of information, we grow attached to her as a character. The movie does this repeatedly and very well, giving us characters and making us feel strongly about them instantly. Madame Von Hopper is hated instantly due to her attitude. Mrs. Danvers is immediately off-putting and she only gets worse throughout. And Mr. de Winters is charming, though a little cold.
In the brief 15 minutes, we see their romance, it feels as if our leading lady is genuinely in love with Mr. de Winters. Their romance, though rushed, is cute. In the novel, it takes place over two weeks, and though there is a montage it doesn’t feel… as real as it could’ve.
Unfortunately, that is where the quality of the film drops.
Once our newlyweds arrive at Manderley, the pacing of the story drops. Tension is built slowly, but it isn’t built well. We can feel the anxiety between Mrs. Danvers and Mrs. de Winters, but its impact isn’t really felt until the masked ball. An hour or so of the movie feels like dead time that could’ve been better spent. And the compelling characters feel wasted in the mid part of the movie.
Rebecca is probably the most important character in the movie, but she feels like a walking (or formerly walking) Deus Ex Machina. First, she’s perfect, then she’s a bitch who is pregnant with another man’s child, then she’s actually suffering from cancer and wanted to commit suicide but couldn’t. Each one of those twists would’ve been interesting if they didn’t come within forty or so minutes of each other. These details would’ve been fascinating if they were introduced in the dead zone of the plot, but instead, they’re all shoveled into the background.
It also doesn’t feel like our characters get a meaningful ending either. Mrs. Danvers never faces the consequences of her actions, she burns the house down and ‘wins’ over the new Mrs. de Winters. Maxim de Winters, whilst sympathetic, literally murdered his own wife, and the film sets him up to be our hero. Strangely he specifically mentions that Manderley is an essential part of his life and that, unless he has kids, it will pass to his sister and her nephews. And at the end of the film, he just leaves. Manderley, the house, is gone, but the Estate is massive. What happens to that or the de Winters property?
The only character who receives an ending she deserves is our unnamed Mrs. de Winters, who ends up happy with a man she loves. A man who, it is important to note, she knew for two weeks before marrying, and that, lest you forget, murdered his wife and staged her death to look like a boating accident and suicide. The fact that she just… goes with it is strange. Honestly, it feels like she as a character has no agency, being led around on a string by whoever happens to be near her.
Despite being two hours long, it feels like almost nothing is said. The plot is simple and the ‘twists’ feel terribly delivered. However, other adaptations don’t fall victim to these flaws.
Rebecca does not exist in a vacuum, it is a product of an eighty-year-old novel, a novel with plenty of other adaptations. All of which seems to handle the subject matter better with superior pacing. It isn’t exactly fair to Rebecca (2020), comparing it to the 1940s. The original had the benefit of being in print, so we know of the thoughts of our primary character. 1940 had the advantage of being directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The 1990s mini-series had Charles fucking Dance, which makes any product better.
Overall, Rebecca (2020) is built off of a strong foundation but flounders compared to other editions. Despite a positive start, the movie gets bogged down with timing and is unsatisfying as a result. 4.5 out of 10.