Ruth & I were excited when we heard that Netflix was releasing a new version of Daphne du Maurier’s most famous novel Rebecca, and we watched it last evening. Neither one of us is a great fan of her semi-Gothic novels, but we knew her well enough to visit the town of Fowey where she lived on our trip to Cornwall a few years go. I’m sorry to report that The New York Times got it right when in reported in its Friday, October 23rd entertainment section that the new Rebecca is not very good. In fact, A. O. Scott said in the intro to his evaluation of it, “Hitchcock is a hard act to follow”. Amen, brother.
Alfred Hitchcock made a beloved version of Rebecca. This movie won the Best Picture Academy Award in 1940. Alfred Hitchcock was never honored as Best Director in his lifetime, so this is the closest he came to Academy acclaim. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards but only won 2, Best Picture and Best Cinematography. Hitchcock filmed 2 other movies based on Daphne du Maurier stories. Just before he tackled Rebecca, Hitchcock made a film of her novel Jamaica Inn. This movie remains very atmospheric but is now fairly dated, and Ruth & I made no effort to see the hotel that still exists in Cornwall with this name. We went to both Bodmin and Launceston, and Jamaica Inn is reportedly on Bodmin Moor between these 2 towns but we made no attempt to see it. Ruth still recalls being frightened by the Daphne du Maurier short story that Hitchcock successfully filmed, The Birds. This was his 3rd du Maurier movie.
However, we did try to get a glimpse of Menabilly, the house that Daphne du Maurier lived in near Fowey for more than 25 years. This mansion was where she wrote her first novel and is said to be the model for Manderley, the main setting for Rebecca. Locals told us where it is, but all we got out of the experience was a good, scenic walk.
Be warned that the new version of Rebecca on Netflix has a different ending than the Hitchcock film. As nominated Judith Anderson playing Mrs. Danvers was the best thing about Hitchcock’s Rebecca in my opinion, Kristin Scott Thomas as this character is the best thing about the new Netflix version. Other than her performance, Ruth & I both found ourselves far more interested in the costumes and sets than the story in the new Ben Wheatley directed Rebecca.
Daphne du Maurier won the National Book Award for Rebecca, which sold 2,800,000 copies over 27 years. It’s still in print and selling. Du Maurier was a writing machine. She wrote and sold her first novel while living in Fowey (pronounced Foy). Published in 1931, it was called The Loving Spirit. She went on to produce 56 other books, 3 plays, etc. She peaked in the 1950s when her novel My Cousin Rachel came out. It was made into a successful movie as was Frenchman’s Creek and her short story “Don’t Look Now”.
Any writer who still has a website devoted to her 31 years after her death, an ongoing Literary Centre that we visited in her favorite town, and a new version of a novel she wrote premiering on Netflix in 2020 has to be admired. Daphne du Maurier was clearly one of the great storytellers of the 20th century and deserved her success.