Gothic novels and adaptations of them are making a comeback this year—a trend that I wholeheartedly embrace. With the genre’s gloomy settings, antiheroes, and suspenseful plots, you would think it would be hard to go wrong, but Netflix’s take on Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel, Rebecca, proves that even when playing with great material, filmmakers can still produce a bland mess.
In Rebecca, a naive and wimpy ladies’ companion (Lily James) rushes into a marriage with a brooding but very rich and handsome widower, Maxim de Winter (Armie Hamer), who whisks her away to his family’s estate, Manderley. Once there, the second Mrs. de Winter gets into conflict with the house manager, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), and struggles with the overwhelming legacy of the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca.
Listen, setting is a critical aspect of a Gothic story, but if the interior design and wardrobe are the best thing your movie has going for it, you have a problem. This adaptation of Rebecca feels so unnecessary given that Alfred Hitchcock did a great film of it, but I thought that maybe it could introduce du Maurier to a new generation. Instead, this movie somehow makes Armie Hamer boring. I spent more time wondering about his terrible yellow suit than I did about what happened to his first wife. A huge part of the problem with this adaptation, I think, is that it is so heavy handed. Alfred Hitchcock and Daphne du Maurier trusted their audiences with subtlety, suspense, and allusion. Netflix’s version doesn’t really seem to understand that it’s working with a mystery. It was somehow glamorous and very, very dull. I am impressed that they managed to create that combination, but that’s all. Skip this soap opera and go back to the originals.
Rebecca was directed by Ben Wheatley and written by Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. It runs 2 hours 1 minute and is rated PG-13 for some sexual content, partial nudity, thematic elements and smoking.
So, if you’re looking for a show that trusts its viewers’ intelligence, check out Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit. This miniseries follows the rise of Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) from learning to play chess from her orphanage’s janitor, Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), to playing in international chess tournaments.
It may sound improbable for a show about a thoughtful, quiet game like chess, but The Queen’s Gambit hooked me in so hard that I watched the whole series in one glorious day. The show’s thrilling qualities come from strong character development and entrancing performances by Anya Taylor-Joy and Isla Johnston as Beth. I was fascinated by Beth’s relationship with her adoptive mother, Alma, played with awkward, frustrating sweetness by Marielle Heller. The two women are so wounded and tentative together that they turned their mother-daughter relationship into a suspenseful drama.
Although the finale does indulge in some pretty corny moments, what impressed me most about this story was how the writers commit to developing Beth as a cold, intense genius who is somehow, despite herself, endearing to those around her (maybe it’s that she’s so pretty?). The development of the character gives the audience and the other characters in the story reason to root for Beth even when she is pretty awful. We do not often get portrayals of women as strong as this, especially outside the context of a romance. The characters all have their own evolving lives which makes the world of the story feel so big and alive. The 1960s-era sets and costumes are beautiful and fun to look at, but the strength of the characters and the ensemble of actors really propel this show. I cannot recommend it enough.
The Queen’s Gambit runs for 7 episodes and is rated TV-MA. It was created by Scott Frank, Scott Allan, and Allan Scott.
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