Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 Gothic novel Rebecca has been modified about a dozen times between various films, TV projects, and radio shows. The best-known version is Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), who won the Academy Award for Best Picture and famously altered the conclusion of the novel to appease censors who demanded that the plot’s core murder should be altered into an accident.
Netflix plunged his hat in the ring for a new Rebecca movie starring Armie Hammer and Lily James as Maxim de Winter and The Unknown Narrator (aka the second Mrs. de Winter), and this one tweaks the end to suit its own intent. Here’s how the Rebecca 2020 film varies from the Daphne du Maurier book.
In the novel, locating Dr. Baker is a more civil matter, with Maxim, the Inspector, Jack, and the Unidentified Writer waiting for the next day to contact the doctor together and figure out why she made her appointment. The film brings more drama to the discovery, and the Unidentified Character travels to London alone to uncover the truth by herself, with the Inspector following behind her. The end effect is the same thing. Rebecca’s disease was terminal, and the nature of her last conversation with Maxim changed: she forced him to kill her to spare her the agony of dying painfully and to wreck her life in the aftermath of her passing.
Mrs. Danvers’ fate is one of the greatest variations from the end of the Maurier film. It’s just hinted in the novel that Danvers set fire to Manderley, but in the film she’s seen strewing fuel, setting the house on fire, and confessing her crime (and her feelings for Rebecca) to the Unidentified Narrator. Shortly after her confession, Rebecca died of suicide when she fell into the same sea.
Danvers is believed alive in the book after the blast. The Unidentified Narrator asks “what [Danvers] is doing now” in the opening chapters of the novel. The subtext of her desire for Rebecca is also a subtext in the book, while the film version of Danvers is more or less clear about her sexual desires for the late and awful Mrs. de Winter.
Ven while Rebecca’s novel concludes with the picture of Manderley burning, readers know what happened after that, and the first two chapters of the novel are written from the viewpoint of the Unidentified Narrator long after the flames. The narrator describes her post-Manderley life with Maxim as a glamorous yet cozy lifestyle where they live in shabby hotels, the hype over reading cricket scores in English newspapers and do their best to never hear of Manderley or Rebecca again. It’s not especially cute, with the narrator saying “our little hotel is boring, and food is indifferent,” and stressing “peace and security” about her relationship with Maxim, but hey — her husband is a rapist, and they’ve been through a tonne.
The movie makes the de Winters’ escape from England a much sexier affair and ends with the happy couple being fully in love with each other at a gorgeous hotel in Egypt. For the record, author Daphne du Maurier did not consider Rebecca a romance and was famously annoyed with people who interpreted it as such.