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Here's What Viewers Think Is Wrong With Netflix's Rebecca

Spoilers for Rebecca appear below

Audiences are dreaming of Manderley again, thanks to director Ben Wheatley's new Netflix adaptation of the 1938 Daphne du Maurier novel Rebecca.

Rebecca tells the story of a young woman (Lily James) who embarks on a whirlwind romance with the wealthy widower Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). The pair soon marry, and the new Mrs. de Winter is taken to Manderley, the family estate, where she meets the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas). Mrs. Danvers is obsessed with Rebecca, Maxim's first wife, and she manipulates the new Mrs. de Winter into believing that her husband still loves Rebecca, and that she could never compare to the previous Mrs. de Winter.

Unfortunately for the movie, that plot summary is not dissimilar to its reception by critics and viewers, who seem to feel on the whole that the new movie can't measure up to the versions that came before it.

Rebecca has a tough act to follow

Du Maurier's novel was adapted to film once before, in 1940 — by Alfred Hitchcock. That version stars Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson as Mr. and Mrs. de Winter and Mrs. Danvers, respectively. It is the only Hitchcock movie to win Best Picture, and was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2018.

That's an awfully big shadow for any movie to try to escape, and many viewers felt that the latest version didn't do enough to justify the attempt at retelling the story, even though it was able to stick closer to the plot of the novel than Hitchcock did. "It does seem like a mistake," writes Redditor u/throwthatawayagain88, "and especially to remake a movie by one of the greatest directors of all time, with arguably the greatest British Actor of all time."

No one's acting compares favorably to Olivier's, who was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and won four of them, but the issues critics and viewers have with Hammer as Maxim have less to do with the details of his performance and more with what a poor fit he was for the role in the first place.

"He doesn't look old enough for it to be creepy," writes one Redditor, "and he looks way too charming to be dark, brooding, or menacing. Maxim is emotionally abusive, he's gaslighting this young girl, he's grooming her so he can control her unlike his first wife." James, the writer continues, appears too old and too ebullient to capture the power dynamics at work between Maxim and his new wife. 

Rebecca stumbles on tone

It's possible the choice to keep the leads closer in age was made to help tilt the movie in a more romantic direction, though many audience members reacted poorly to this change. "I hate how they've made this a romance," writes u/cyanplum. "The book is not romantic at all."

Another viewer u/girladventurer says, "I think the film was too bright and really poorly handled the relationship of the de Winters (yikes at the romantic note at the ending. That wasn't the point of the novel at all.)"

The audience members who seem most likely to enjoy the movie are those who watch it free of the first film's baggage. As u/prettybunbun writes, "Lol guess I'm one of the few who enjoyed it. Maybe because I haven't seen/read the source material? I just found it to be a good mystery/slightly thriller period piece."

Positive reviews have tended to be in this vein, more lukewarm than anything. As another commenter puts it, "Clearly Hitchcock was better but, treating this film on it's own it's not bad. Like if your [sic] bored and cant find anything else to watch, this film will suffice." No exactly back-of-the-DVD material. 

Whether or not you've seen the original, you can experience Rebecca anew on Netflix.