Rebecca (1940) vs Rebecca (2020)
Rebecca (1940) vs Rebecca (2020) – 2-in-1 review
Released in April, 1940, Rebecca is the Alfred Hitchcock directed adaption of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel of the same name. The film follows a young woman who falls in love with and marries wealthy aristocrat Maxim de Winter. However after moving with him to his estate of the coast of England, she discovers that her presence there is overshadowed by that of the late Rebecca, Maxim de Winter’s deceased wife. The 1940 film went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and currently sits at #235 on IMDb’s Top 250 highest rated films. You know, exactly the kind of film that screams “Remake!”
We actually just watched the original Rebecca only a moth or so ago, before we discovered there was a Netflix remake on the horizons. However after watching the original, I wasn’t exactly sure what to say about it. Now, having seen a significantly worse version of the film, I know exactly what to say about this classic. It’s fascinating! Which is more than I can say for the remake.
The story in both films is full of subtle twists and turns, guided by a tone that stays fairly strong in both. The film starts as a romance and ends up as something very different… And I had thought that was simply Hitchcock’s lack of self-control for endings. As it turns out, the slow descent of the original is masterfully handled in comparison to the heavy-handed remake. The 2020 film omits key elements of its setup and substitutes them for on-the-nose dialogue and questionable character decisions later in the film. This inadvertently shatters the connection with the characters; a which are the drive of the story.
Mr. and Mrs. de Winter are pivotal for the drive of the film. Their characters arcs guide both the tone and the audience through the winding story. We watch as our protagonist is thrown into a world in which she is unfamiliar and left to either grow or drown in the shadow of a life she can never know. Meanwhile we see her new husband Maxim begin to push away with the memories of his wife returning to him. Now in both versions I liked Mrs. de Winter as a characters. However this movie only works for me if don’t hate Maxim. He’s hard to love, but gosh I hated him in the remake thanks to the story choices the make.
Of course it doesn’t help that Armie Hammer is trying to replace the great Laurence Olivier. Laurence 12 nominations, 1 win, and 1 honorary win at the Oscars Olivier. He simply isn’t up to the task of the complex nature of the character here, and that again might be the fault of the story structure as it is adapted here. However I give credit to both Mrs. de Winters: Joan Fontaine and Lily James, both of whom are pretty great! Fontaine certainly delivers the stronger performance. I think the classic film setting actually works really well for a more stereotypically fragile performance to grow from- which is kinda Hitchcock’s wheelhouse. Also Judith Anderson and Kristin Scott Thomas are great as Mrs. Danvers! I hated both of them perfectly.
Now when it comes to quality- well it’s hard to beat Hitchcock. So maybe don’t try? George Barnes’ Oscar winning cinematography is surprisingly ahead of its time, while Laurie Rose’s doesn’t get as much of a chance to shine through consistently strange editing choices. (Because if its one thing the new Rebecca doesn’t do well, it’s subtlety.) Now to be honest, Franz Waxman’s score wasn’t too memorable from the older film. Granted neither is Clint Mansell’s, so we’ll call that one a tie…
Now you are probably wondering if you can sit through a two hour movie from 1940. Well let me tell you, it’s nowhere near as boring as the 2020 film. (Now knowing how the story goes doesn’t help for sure…) Hear me out though! If you haven’t seen either film, please watch the original. Sure you might get a strong reaction from the tone of the new film, but gosh it makes so many poor choices that end up hurting the fantastic story and intriguing characters. The original Rebecca is just so ahead of its time that is holds up pretty well now! And if there were ever a modern standard to hold it to, this poor attempt at a remake is it. I’ll give the Best Picture winner an easy 8/10. And to be fair, the new film tries. Lily James and Kristin Scott Thomas just about save this film, but it’s not worth watching. 5/10.
So Rebecca? Have you seen either of them? What do you think? Hey at least it’s not as bad as the remake of Psycho (1998)! Whatever your thoughts, be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let us know! And if you liked this review and want to read more like it, we have a few more new vs old comparisons coming soon…
-review by Ryan Prince