- Gareth Crook
I’m going to try and not compare this to its famous predecessor. To be honest, it’s been so long since I visited this story, I’m hoping to be able to keep an open mind with Ben Wheatley’s reimagining. With Wheatley’s track record you’d think you’re in safe hands, but even with the sinister elements to this story, it’s an altogether different beast to films like Kill List, Free Fire, High-Rise and the excellent Sightseers. This is what they used to refer to in studio parlance as a ‘Prestige Picture’. Big budgets, lavish sets, decadence dripping from the screen. Armie Hammer carries this weight well as the charming Maxim de Winter. He cuts that leading man presence. In fact the cast in general are pretty good, perhaps none more than Lily James, who’s destined to become the new Mrs de Winter. You see Armie has recently lost his wife, Rebecca and is spending some time in Monte Carlo (see decadent), where he meets his bride to be as she’s accompanying the ghastly Mrs Van Hopper (Ann Doud, of Handmaids Tale fame). He’s rich and terribly polite. She’s young, far from rich and also terribly polite. If it were to go on like this it’d be shockingly dull. It’s not going to though is it. They fall in love, get married and head back to his country pile, Mandalay. And so we swap the sun-swept Med with its burnt orange sunsets and white washed walls for the darker, greener climbs of England. It’s like stepping back (further) in time. This is all wallpaper though. As much of a presence that Mandalay is. It’s it’s inhabitants both alive and dead that bring it to life. The formidable Mrs Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas) is the conduit for all things sinister. The housekeeper at Mandalay, still loyal to the departed Rebecca. She’s a little frosty to the new Mrs de Winter, who finds herself living in the shadow of her predecessor, much like this film. Despite Mr de Winter seemingly looking to move on, it’s clear he’s trapped. The whole house is in a spell. Partly in a sense of duty, but mostly by Danvers. She’s the lynchpin character and Scott plays her well, albeit a little obviously. She drives her new mistress bonkers, masking the issues her husband still harbours, as Mrs de Winter (she doesn’t get a first name, that’s only for Rebecca) finds she’s impossible shoes to fill. It’s a slick retelling of a maddening story and generally does everything right. It seems lacking heart and and grit though and when you’re trying to crank up the psychological tension, that’s a problem. Rebecca is an idea of perfection for much of the story and this film seems to be striving for that perfection too. Although it comes up short, that’s not to say it’s bad. It’s a bit long. There’s some duff character portrayals, Sam Riley’s Jack Favell for one and I’m not quite sure what to make of Sleaford Mods frontman Jason Williamson singing in the kitchen as the toffs party at the ball upstairs. Don’t get me wrong, it looks wonderful and the twists still lands with a punch. There’s no denying the strength of the story and it grips brilliantly. I just think that modern cinema struggles with tales like this. Too clean, too much knowledge of cinematic tricks, not enough naive experimentation. This was always only ever going to be a rehashing. Wheatley is signed up for more frivolous drudgery, with a Meg and Tomb Raider sequel. I won’t watch either, but I imagine they’ll be a laugh. He seems all at sea here though.