Having read and fallen in love with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca earlier this year, I was eager to see the much-celebrated Hitchcock adaptation; one of three of du Maurier’s stories that he converted for the big screen.
As is usually to be expected with film adaptations, there were several discrepancies from the original text, though thankfully most were minor and justifiable enough not to lose the sentiment and atmosphere that du Maurier sought to create with her masterpiece (encapsulated very well through Hitchcock’s direction and the wonderful recreation of the story’s iconic setting, Manderley), meaning that overall, I felt it was a faithful interpretation that is well worth seeing.
The cast all did a great job in bringing the characters to life. Fontaine was very believable as the naïve, eager-to-please second Mrs de Winter (I really appreciated that they allowed her to remain unnamed as in the book), whilst Olivier was as charismatic as ever. The role of Mrs Danvers shifts dynamic slightly given that Anderson is not the skeletal, older figure that is presented in the book, but the actress does such a fine job of capturing her stern, sinister essence that I can overlook it. Even smaller characters were made memorable thanks to good performances, like Maxim’s straight-talking sister and the eccentric Mrs Van Hopper.
*There are slight spoilers for both the book and film in this coming paragraph.* I definitely preferred the nature of Rebecca’s death in the book, given the implication that she deliberately baited Maxim into killing her so that she would avoid a slow death and he would be condemned to a life in prison, but also the warped dynamic this leads to in his relationship with his new wife, who is all too keen to help him get away with it. I understand and appreciate that cinematic code at the time meant that spouses couldn’t be shown to deliberately kill their partner and get away with it, so her death had to be made accidental, but for me this meant the plot lost some of its sinister impact.
Whilst I also appreciate that the slight change in the ending made it more visually pleasing and dramatic to a cinema-going audience, it’s the quiet menace and slight ambiguity of the novel that remains my preferred version.
All-in-all, it was a tasteful and thoroughly enjoyable adaptation that stays true to the ‘the book is always better’ rule, but stands as its own solid film that should please those who love du Maurier’s complex and layered tale of secrets and lies; longing and betrayal.