Cert 12A Stars 4
Secrets, snobbery and sexual intrigue make for an extremely enjoyable watch in this sumptuous and sly adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s mystery novel, famously filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940.
Lily James and Armie Hammer take the roles previously played by Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier, as an inexperienced young woman and an aristocratic widower, whose whirlwind fairytale romance in the south of France turns into a nightmare once they’re married and living in his English ancestral home of Manderley, where the new Mrs. de Winter is haunted by the memory and reputation of her husband’s late wife.
Manderley is a gothic pile and run by the evil step-mother-like presence of housekeeper Mrs Danvers, a frighteningly acid turn from Kristin Scott Thomas.
This is very much a change of pace and scale for Brit director Ben Wheatley who’s previously made low budget thrillers Kill List and Down Terrace, and should be applauded for refusing to be cowed by the ghost of Hitchcock.
Where the master of suspense suffocated his version in mesmerising black and white, Wheatley drowns the screen in gorgeous colour.
Monte Carlo dazzles in white and gold, Manderley has gorgeous textured interiors, the English coastline is glorious and a devilish red dress arrests our attention at a glamorous costume ball.
Casting the super talented Lily James allows Wheatley to use the star of Disney’s live action Cinderella to comment on the myth of happy ever after, while also paying homage to Hitchcock’s habit of terrorising elegant blondes.
As Mrs. de Winter is isolated, manipulated and humiliated by the household staff, and her older husband neglects her while obsessing over his former love, Wheatley draws parallels with Princess Diana and suggests the late royal would also qualify as a ‘Hitchcock blonde’.
Unlike Hitchcock’s masterpiece I doubt this will win the Best Picture Oscar, but it’s hugely accomplished and will make for a fascinating comparison with the upcoming series of TV’s The Crown.