[Interview] Director Ben Wheatley Collaboratively Weaves Textural Details Into ‘REBECCA’

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

Director Ben Wheatley has taken us on genre-fused journeys before with such disparate films like KILL LIST, A FIELD IN ENGLAND, HIGH RISE and FREE FIRE under his belt. His latest REBECCA, an adaptation of author Daphne du Marier’s timeless best-seller, is unique in that it combines elements of many genres he had yet to tap into in previous works, like romance and courtroom procedurals. And though he wasn’t about to let the specter of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 masterwork hang around set, his iteration adds new threads into the source material’s rich tapestry.

The affable auteur, during the film’s recent press day, shared that he and his team came to the project with a set of specific strategies to better reflect the narrative. Both he and costume designer Julian Day (ROCKETMAN, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY) came up with a plan to chart character journeys through the use of color palettes.

“The way the characters had an arc going across the movie, the clothes have a similar arc too.”

One of those outfits is the linen marigold suit Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer) is sporting when he meets his second wife (Lily James) for the first time while on holiday in Monte Carlo. He said,

“It’s almost like he’s the prize she could win. But by the time they get back to Manderley, that was like his holiday suit, and the rest of his clothes are almost like dressing down. You find this with these aristocrats who wear these really worn-out clothes around the estate.”

Rebecca (L to R) Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter, Lily James as Mrs. de Winter, Sam Riley as Jack Favell. Cr. KERRY BROWN/NETFLIX

There’s a transference of agency and power that takes place where Maxim’s new bride begins to find her voice. He continued,

“Later, the second Mrs. de Winter dons this golden Chanel suit. You have these two bookends with the gold outfits. The idea was that as one starts at the top and goes down, which is Maxim, the Mrs. de Winter character rises up. Instead, she’s the prize to herself.”

Attention grabbing garb aside, dramatic lighting techniques help set the stage for the film’s evocative feelings. Wheatley once again reunited with cinematographer Laurie Rose, who he’s worked with on seven films prior.

“There was a lot of storyboarding and a lot of planning in terms of how emotionally the camera is scene to scene – when does it go to handheld and when does it go to grit.”

Working closely with the actors on their blocking also augments the mounting mystery and romance.

“The blocking would fall back into a kind of 1940’s kind of structure, which you see when Favell turns up and the arguments in the room. Generally, across these movies, I have a plan of breaking it in the camerawork or break it in the editing.”

REBECCA begins streaming on Netflix on October 21.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.