Lily James & Kristin Scott Thomas face off in Netflixâs Rebecca
Directed by Ben Wheatley, Rebecca is the new film adaptation of the 1938 Gothic suspense novel of the same title by English author Dame Daphne du Maurie.

Lily James & Kristin Scott Thomas face off in Netflix’s Rebecca

Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - October 20, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — British stars Lily James and Kristin Scott Thomas will face off in the new psychological thriller Rebecca.

Directed by Ben Wheatley (Free Fire, High Rise), the film is the latest adaptation of the 1938 Gothic suspense novel of the same title by English author Dame Daphne du Maurie, a bestseller during its time and still a “haunting” read, never going out of print, 90 years after.

As the story goes, a whirlwind romance brings a young and naive woman (Lily) to Manderlay, a stunning family estate overlooking an English coast owned by the wealthy widower Max De Winter (Armie Hammer) who is now her husband. But as soon as she arrives, the newlywed finds herself competing with the shadow of the first wife Rebecca, whose legacy is kept alive by the mysterious housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin).

Manderlay then becomes a battlefield for “dominance” among the three women, with one not seen but still very much felt in every corner of the mansion. And whenever Lily and Kristin are seen in the same frame as Mrs. De Winter and Mrs. Danvers, the scene just crackles with tension and suspense as both characters become increasingly and dangerously obsessed with the spectral presence of Rebecca.

A newly-married young woman (Lily James) arrives at her husband’s sprawling estate only to be ‘haunted’ by the shadow of the first wife Rebecca
Photos courtesy of Netflix

During virtual interviews last week, The STAR asked Lily (Mamma Mia!, Cinderella) and Kristin (The English Patient, Four Weddings and a Funeral) who previously starred together in the critically-acclaimed 2017 film Darkest Hour about sharing screen time in Rebecca.

There’s a scene where Kristin is simply brushing the hair of Lily inside the bedroom and amidst the monogrammed possessions of the former mistress of the house. But it puts you on edge with Mrs. Danvers’ unnerving iciness and Mrs. De Winter’s gnawing paranoia, so much so that when the former tells the latter, “She’s still here. Can you feel her?”, we felt that.

Lily recalled how terrifying Kristin was as Mrs. Danvers. “Kristin is just a formidable, beautiful actor, I mean in every sense of the word. And she’s so powerful and so terrifying. Mrs. Danvers was terrifying! I was shaking in the scenes,” she admitted.

The “reel” clash notwithstanding, the 31-year-old star had real fun working with the 60-year-old screen queen. “She’s really cool and generous and when you work with actors like that, it just makes your job so easy. All you have to do is respond. We had a lot of fun doing our scenes. She’s got a really wicked sense of humor.”

Kristin, on the other hand, revealed that she was “e-mailing the producer” and asking to be hired as Mrs. Danvers as soon as she got wind of the Rebecca reboot after Alfred Hitchcock’s Oscar Best Picture version way back in 1940. Still, it was a tough experience for her to act as Lily’s tormentor.

She shared, “I think on set I terrorized her, I think off set I made her laugh. I seem to remember giggling quite a lot with Lily James. But it wasn’t very nice. It’s not very nice to have to bully somebody. I remember, particularly the scene in Rebecca’s bedroom, those days (of filming it), it was really hard.”

She continued, “But then you step off the set, and you know you’re in a car park or wherever you are, and everyone’s wearing shorts because that’s what people wear on film sets for some reason, it was hot weather, so the difference between being on set and off set was huge. Because that set is so beautiful, so exquisite, and then being really horrid to Lily, it’s not very nice. It’s not fun. You get your teeth into it, you know. You sort of go for it and you think, ‘Oh, this is awful. I can’t bear it,’ and you have to sort of, you know, undo it somehow.”

Whose legacy is kept alive by the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas).
Photos courtesy of Netflix

Meanwhile, Kristin was asked if she had ever met a Mrs. Danvers, or a similarly controlling character, in real life. “I think we’ve all met versions of, you know, women who make you feel... older women who make you feel this low, that is something which is portrayed a lot in film and in literature. Powerful women tend to be mean, which is interesting.

“I think we’ve all met people who’ve made you feel insignificant, and Mrs. Danvers has mastered the art of making others feel insignificant, which probably reveals a feeling of insignificance herself. And it’s probably something to do with her compensating the fact that she is a housekeeper when she could have been lady of the house, that she’s had a huge collapse in her status. And that’s when she takes it out on other people. She’s basically bullying.”

When asked if there’s anything to learn from her character, Kristin said, “Don’t hold on to the past, I think that’s the message (laughs). Let it go! Otherwise, things come to a sticky end. Because, of course, she is the absolute, the perfect example of somebody who is clinging to the past, who’s clinging to a memory, clinging to something that doesn’t exist! And, I think, all that is very, very unhealthy. If anyone is to take a message from Mrs. Danvers, that is, don’t live in the past.”

Lily, for her part, believes that her character though created decades ago is relatable to this day, with her disempowered state, vulnerability and anxiety. “Her anxiety, I feel, is a very modern problem. You know, feeling inadequate, feeling (in awe of) people on social media or celebrities or whatever it may be, feeling like you’re not good enough, and my character spends the whole story feeling like she’s not good enough and it’s overshadowed by Rebecca. So, I felt like that character would be very relatable, too, because I definitely feel like that a lot of times (laughs).”

No surprise, too, that the novel continues to inspire (re)adaptations. Lily first read the book when she was 20 and watched the Hitchcock film as preparation. She said, “It was a commercial hit right, when Daphne du Maurie wrote it and I think it’s because the story is incredible. This gothic horror-romance that is surprising. The twists in this book will genuinely take you by surprise, which is very rare, I think. On top of that, she does pose questions and explore key ideas about how men and women behave towards one another, about toxicity, about abuse. It’s like a story that examines key ideas that are just as relevant now as they were in the 1930s, so it’s a very clever novel. And I feel like, you need both of those going on — a great story and a deeper sort of meaning — and it becomes a classic.”

(Rebecca will world-premiere via Netflix tomorrow, Oct. 21.)

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