Famed film director Alfred Hitchcock only had one film that won the Oscar for Best Picture. This was his first American film -- "Rebecca" (1940), based on Daphne du Maurier's best-selling gothic novel of the same title published in 1938. This was the first of 5 Oscar nominations for Best Director Hitchcock earned but did not win, the others being for "Lifeboat" (1944), "Spellbound" (1945), "Rear Window" (1954) and "Psycho" (1960).
This original "Rebecca" earned 11 Oscar nominations. Aside from Best Picture and Director, it was also nominated for Best Actor (Laurence Olivier), Actress (Joan Fontaine), Supporting Actress (Judith Anderson), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Art Direction, Original Score, Special Effects and Black and White Cinematography (which it won). "Rebecca" was the only Best Picture winner since 1936 that did not win any Oscar for acting, directing or writing.
A mousy middle-class young woman (Lily James), while serving as personal assistant to a rich matron on her vacation in Monte Carlo, met and had a whirlwind affair with the handsome aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer), culminating in an impulsive wedding. After their honeymoon, Maxim brought his new Mrs. de Winter back to his estate called Manderley. Only then would the new mistress realize how much the essence of the late Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca, pervaded and persisted in the mansion, its staff and in her husband.
This new version of "Rebecca" felt like an unsophisticated potboiler romance turned sleazy crime drama, mainly because the leads felt miscast. For some inexplicable reason, Lily James, who was ravishing in her previous films like "Cinderella" and "Mamma Mia 2," just could not get her bearings on right here as an overcooked Mrs. de Winter. While there should be several British actors who could play the reticent and mysterious Maxim, they had to choose Armie Hammer who was not convincing at all as an English aristocrat, who surely would not be caught wearing a bright yellow suit more than once in public.
It was good to see acclaimed actress Kristin Scott-Thomas back in a major role as Mrs. Danvers. In the 1990s and 2000s, she had a run of high-profile films as "Four Weddings and a Funeral" (1994) and "The English Patient" (1996), "Gosford Park" (2001) and "Il y a longtemps que je t'aime" (2008). Scott-Thomas' eyes did a lot of work here to convey the obsession of this lady-in-waiting towards her perfect mistress. For a while there, I thought that there might be an LGBT angle fitted in to her character as is popular in movies and series nowadays.
I had seen the original "Rebecca" on home video before, and remember it best for its atmospheric black and white cinematography and Judith Anderson's iconic portrayal of the spooky housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. I surmise that this was Alfred Hitchcock's signature mood in his films.
This new film did not have this creepy atmosphere at all, and maybe it was not director Ben Wheatly's intention at all to recreate the Hitchcock feel. So again, why remake a definitive film classic if you cannot give it any substantial improvement?
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."