Monday, 26 October 2015

Book vs. Adaptation | Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (Part One)

I'm back today with another Book vs. Adaptation post, and the second Halloween-themed adaptation chat this month. If you want to see me chat about Henry Selick's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, you can check it out here!

Today, however, I'm going to be talking about Alfred Hitchcock's adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's masterpiece, Rebecca.
Rebecca was published in 1938, and Hitchcock's adaptation followed two years later in 1940. The film is 130 minutes long and stars Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier and Judith Anderson.

After I finished reading Rebecca - a book I read around this time last year, and one I've thought about a lot since - I wasn't all that surprised to discover Hitchcock had adapted it; if anyone could adapt an exquisitely psychologically book that creeps under your skin and takes root there the way Rebecca does, it'd be this man. However, Daphne du Maurier considered withholding the film rights to Rebecca after seeing Hitchcock's 1939 adaptation of Jamaica Inn which, despite making an awful lot of money upon its release, was disliked by critics, by du Maurier and even by Hitchcock himself for completely lacking any of the suspense the novel has and turning the story into something of a comic romp. Luckily for us it seems du Maurier trusted Hitchcock to get her masterpiece right.

And did he? Yes, I'd say he did.

My mum and I are both fans of du Maurier, it's one of the few things we have in common, so one gloomy summer night we decided to watch it together and the two of us really enjoyed it!

This adaptation isn't without its faults by any means. There are the odd tweaks to the plot, but for the most part it's a very faithful and very atmospheric adaptation. Laurence Olivier makes for a tortured yet charming Maxim de Winter and Joan Fontaine, though a little too beautiful for Mrs. de Winter for me - she's a character I've always pictured as very plain, and Joan Fontaine is anything but that - certainly acts the part of Mrs. de Winter beautifully.

The star of this film for me, however, is Judith Anderson whose portrayal of the villainous Mrs. Danvers is just perfect. The woman's terrifying! She's quiet, still and so threatening, but threatening in the same way that voice in the back of your mind is when you're having a rough day; Mrs. Danvers is that part of our subconscious who makes us feel ashamed when we treat ourselves to that extra slice of cake or feel stupid when we introduce ourselves to new people. Perhaps it's just the English student in me, but there are times when, to me, Mrs. Danvers is the perfect personification of anxiety.

Something else I really loved about this adaptation is that we never see Rebecca. Some adaptations have her appear in flashbacks, but in this adaptation she doesn't appear at all and it makes her presence even more keenly felt because of it. We don't need to see her, we just need to see her 'R' emblazoned on almost everything Mrs. de Winter touches. 

(I promise that isn't a spoiler. Maxim de Winter is introduced as a widow very early on in the book, something I imagine most people can guess from the blurb anyway!)

Yes this film's old and yes it's in black and white, but I recommend checking it out. I was so surprised when I discovered it was made in 1940 because for such an early film I think it's pretty fantastic, and if black and white films bother you I promise that, after a while, you won't even notice it - in fact it really suits the mood of the film. I highly, highly suggest only watching this after you've read the book, though; it's one of those books which, whatever your tastes, I think everyone should read. It's that good.

Hitchcock's adaptation of du Maurier's work didn't stop here, either. The Birds (1963), probably his most famous film next to Psycho, is based off one of du Maurier's short stories. I think it's safe to say Hitchcock was a du Maurier fan, just stay away from his adaptation of Jamaica Inn!

I'll be back to discuss the 1997 miniseries soon!


  1. Bit embarrassed I've never actually seen this version all the way through! Although the bits I have seen I've liked. I never read 'Jamaica Inn' either, but apparently the 2014 series is supposed to be a more faithful version? (The one everyone criticised for all the mumbling, haha) great review :)

    1. Thanks! :) I recommend watching this all the way through the next time you have a chance to, it's a really good film! I haven't read Jamaica Inn yet either, but I've heard good things about the 2014 adaptation (aside from all the mumbling) - my mum's a du Maurier fan so I ended up buying her that adaptation for her birthday, so after I've read the book I'm sure I'll end up watching it with her! ^_^