Rebecca (2020)

It’s not easy remaking an already great movie. But a Best Picture winner at the Oscars? That’s an especially tall order.

Only a handful of Best Picture winners have been remade and technically most of them are new adaptations of a book.

The list includes “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Ben-Hur,” “All the King’s Men,” “Hamlet” and “Around the World in 80 Days.”

Steven Spielberg has a new film version of “West Side Story” that will be added to this list at some point (release date uncertain due to COVID-19).

And now we have “Rebecca,” a Netflix-exclusive based on the 1938 Gothic novel by English author Dame Daphne du Maurier.

“Rebecca” was turned into a Best Picture-winning feature in 1940 directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. Hitchcock did not receive a statuette for this win (he was not listed as a producer) and ultimately he never won an Oscar in his career (only an honorary one).

While loved by many classic film buffs, the original 1940 “Rebecca” isn’t among Hitchock’s best works. Most people, including myself, would certainly rank it after “Psycho,” “The Birds,” “Vertigo,” “North by Northwest” and “Rear Window.” I might throw in a few others (I have a fondness for “Rope”).

So why remake this classic? I’m not sure I understand why.

Lily James (“Downton Abbey,” “Cinderella”) and Armie Hammer (“Call Me By Your Name,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”) star in the two lead roles in director Ben Wheatley’s new version.

It’s the story of a young woman who falls in love with a rich widower and marries him rather quickly and moves into his enormous mansion called Manderley. The setting itself certainly takes on a life of its own and it’s intricately detailed in the bright colorful updated remake. James is constantly reminded of the memory of her husband’s first wife and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death.

Not to give away anything about the plot (it really kicks in during the last 30 minutes of this 2-hour film) but the modern remake seems to more of a murder mystery than a psychological thriller like the original.

The real standout in this new version is Kristin Scott Thomas (“The English Patient,” “Only God Forgives”) as the the creepy, possessive housekeeper Mrs. Danvers who manipulates James’ character and seems overly protective of the late wife’s memory.

If you’re comparing this new version to the original, you might be let down, but if you’re looking for a thriller with a beautiful period-piece setting then you could do a lot worse than “Rebecca.”

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