Skip to content

Daphne du Maurier

The official Daphne du Maurier website, approved by her Estate

Please see disclaimer

Our website followers views on the Netflix adaptation of Rebecca

When a favourite book is revised or adapted, whether it is for a film or a television series, there are often comparisons and a great deal of discussion, and it is not always as positive as one might hope.  This has undoubtedly been the case with the new Netflix adaptation of Rebecca, which was released on 21st October.  The critics, the broader media, and social media have had an absolute field day with their opinions about this new film. 

I do not usually feel it is my place to inflict my opinions on you.  My role is to inform you about Daphne du Maurier and to bring you new and exciting information about her or associated with her.  However, on this occasion, I feel I must say that I wish people had watched this new movie with open minds. 

I can understand, and I am obviously glad, that many people love the novel of Rebecca very much, and have often read it several times, know the story inside out and have strong views on what it means to them.  However, my bugbear has been the constant griping about how the new movie doesn't compare to the Hitchcock film.  The Hitchcock film is beautiful and has become a classic.  What is doesn't do is tell us the same story as the novel.  In 1940 Hitchcock was bound by the Hays Code.  So, in the book, Rebecca is murdered by Maxim, but in Hitchcock's film, her death is accidental, and Maxim covers it up because he doesn't think anyone will believe his innocence.  I do wonder how many people remember that; and how many people, have even read the novel and are, in fact, just comparing two films.  Also, let's remember director Ben Wheatley made a point of adapting the book, not any previous movie or tv adaptation.

Rant over! 

We have three great reviews for you, each of them fair-minded, written by enthusiastic and knowledgeable du Maurier followers, who, I am delighted to say, also follow the Daphne du Maurier website.

Firstly, let me introduce Chris Main.  He has studied Daphne du Maurier for a long time.  He follows this website, and he has attended the Daphne du Maurer/ Fowey festivals for many years, where he always contributed to the events he attends with valuable information, questions, and comments.  Here is what he has to say about the new adaptation of Rebecca:

As many readers will know, Daphne hated being categorised as a romantic novelist and would refute this label in the strongest terms, although she would usually concede that Frenchman's Creek could be regarded as a romance. But Rebecca? Definitely not. She sometimes described it as a study in jealousy. Maxim proposes to his second wife after the shallowest of encounters in Monte Carlo, and it does not appear that his feelings for her run very deep. The second chapter of the novel describes the 'end state' of the couple – and it is anything but romantic. If there was any romance originally between Maxim and Rebecca, it is brutally eclipsed by the way things turned out. Whatever Rebecca might be, it is no love story.

This is less than ideal for a contemporary film starring two young and attractive actors – so the story had to be adapted. In this new version of Rebecca, the genesis of the relationship between the supposedly grieving widower and the naïve lady's companion is duly expanded to give it a more romantic spin, and the casting of two leading actors of similar age (Maxim should be twice the age of his second wife) facilitates this. At the end of the film, the sterile existence of the exiled couple described in the novel has morphed into something a good deal steamier.

Just as Daphne's unloving couple are not suitable for a contemporary audience, so the character of Mrs Danvers, one of the great villains of 20th century literature, needs a softer touch. Her adoration of Rebecca, which is implied in the novel, is now detailed by the character herself in terms inviting our sympathy for her loss. Yes, she is still scary (and Kristen Scott Thomas gives the film's best performance) but she is robbed of any mystery and the writers feel compelled to resolve her story, which Daphne did not.

On the face of it, the new film is more faithful to the book than the 1940 original, because there is no 'Production Code' to enforce changes to the plot. Fans will enjoy seeing favourite scenes come to life, and a lot of the original dialogue is preserved. The production is lavish as are the clothes – though Maxim's mustard coloured suit is bizarre and not something Daphne's character could ever have been persuaded to wear once, let alone two days in a row. All the elements of the story are there, all the characters, all the major events – faithfully reproduced in more or less the correct order. But everything else is gone. 

Much has been made by critics of the miscasting of the two lead actors and I have to agree – but it's understandable, given the decision to work with only the most superficial reading of the story. Films are expensive to make and they need box office appeal. The producers chose to play it safe, and who can blame them for that?

As a Du Maurier fan I would say the new film is worth a watch. If you can live with Rebecca as a romance with a nod to murder mystery, then it is fine and very easy on the eye. But if you were hoping for any sort of take on the social, psychological, and sexual tension of the novel you will be sorely disappointed.

Our next review comes from Patrice Babin, who lives in France and corresponds with me about Daphne du Maurier, occasionally contributing items from France, that I would not otherwise know about and sometimes commenting on pieces that he has read on our website.  He is also a true du Maurier fan and knows lots about her.  Patrice has kindly written his review in the English language for me, which I have to say impresses me, as I could never write a substantial piece in French!  Here is what he said about the new film:

It's difficult to form an opinion about Ben Wheatley's new adaptation of Rebecca: I think that Hitchcock's ghost is still too powerful, and it isn't easy to struggle with it.  However, I confess that I spent two pleasant hours watching this new film and, like *Tatiana de Rosnay, I can say that I wasn't bored at all. But (**Xavier's first feeling too) isn't it just as good as an excellent TV movie, nice to look at and very inoffensive? 

Daphne du Maurier's work has a plot which is a genial success in reinventing the English tradition of the gothic novel; Ben Wheatley's film lacks - may be - of mystery, and the end of the film (from the beginning of the trial) is too much as a thriller (for my taste).  I didn't like the scene of the ball which is one of the high points of the story. In the Hitchcock version, the heroine is shy to make her entrance, she is furtive and desperate for her husband's approval.  The guests don't look.  Here she is announced with a drumroll and everyone is paying attention!  It seems to me that Wheatley doesn't want to show the difference of classes - difference of social standing - in the married couple.  And this last exchange between the two women on the cliff isn't the best idea, I think: it clears, too much, Mrs Danvers' feelings. Then she drowns in the sea ... like the ancient poetess Sapho!

The production is lavish - Manderley looks a little like Downton Abbey and its Tudor façade (front) recalls Henry VIIIth, who killed two of his six wives!  The costumes are beautiful but isn't Lily James a little too chic when she is on the Riviera?  Is Mrs van Hopper such a generous employer for her young, impoverished companion? And Armie Hammer's golden linen suit makes him look like a sort of playboy (I think that this rejuvenation of Maxim changes the atmosphere of the story and the relationship between Maxim and his new wife). I liked Kristin Scott Thomas' Danvers, very icy and very disturbing.  A great performance. But the male characters lag a little too much behind, don't you think so?

Well, I hope that I did not bore you with my thoughts about this new adaptation of a novel that we all love. I think that dear Alfred H. can sleep peacefully in his grave!

But the Netflix version isn't bad, and like Tatiana de Rosnay - and Xavier too - I do hope it can reach a new public ... and give new readers to Daphne.

* Tatiana de Rosnay is a hugely popular and successful Franco-British novelist and Daphne du Maurier's current biographer.  She lives in Paris and was the first person to publish a biography about Daphne du Maurier in the French language.  Her biography, Manderley Forever, is available internationally.  To read her interview about this new adaptation of Rebecca click here:

** Xavier Lachazette is a professor of literature, translation and multimedia at Le Mans University, France.  He has studied Daphne du Maurier at length and had a broad knowledge of her work, particularly her short fiction.  He is a regular attendee at the Daphne du Maurier/Fowey festivals.

Our last review comes from William Tester, who lives in Cornwall, his main interests lie in the history of Fowey and its surrounding area, and this has brought his attention to many local authors, including Daphne du Maurier.  He regularly attends the Daphne du Maurier/Fowey festivals.  Here is what he had to say about the new Netflix Rebecca movie:

Having watched this adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, I can say that I enjoyed it.  As with many film's it is an adaptation of the novel that the author originally wrote. In this case, it is not an adaptation of the 80-year-old Hitchcock film or any other film or tv versions.

Nearly all the characters were there, except poor old Colonel Julyan.  Where was he?  The choice of actors for the various characters was interesting.  Armie Hammer as Maxim and Lily James as the nameless second Mrs de Winter, were very close in age, compared with the characters in the book, but that was probably the film-makers choice because of the current thinking and the 'Me Too' movement.  Kristin Scott Thomas was very good as Mrs Danvers, perhaps more cynical and less scary than the original, but still very commanding.  Keeley Hawes as Beatrice and Jane Lapotaire as the Grandmother were beautiful cameo roles from two much loved British actors, so it was good to see them in the film.  Sam Riley as Jack Favell and Tom Goodman-Hill as Frank Crawley, played their parts very much as Daphne du Maurier wrote them, and Mrs van Hopper, well, she was dreadful as she is in the novel, but goodness, why did her accent keep changing? I'm glad they still kept Jasper the dog, and the other elderly dog, they, mostly Jasper, play quite a big part in the overall atmosphere of the story.

Quite a few scenes/plot lines were different, but for those who knew the story of Rebecca, we knew where we were going with it.  We have to remember that Hitchcock also changed the plot from the original novel.  At the time his film was made, film regulations prevented a hero (Maxim) from being a murderer, so the way that Rebecca died, was changed.

We are all entitled to our own opinion, as a Daphne fan, I am pleased that there are directors, out there, who continue to see the worth of her books, and who still want to use her works in their films.

PS. It doesn't say anywhere in the book that the story is set in Cornwall… but we know it was!

Thank you for sending me your reviews and sharing your thoughts with us.

‹‹ Back to Current News