When I tell people that Rebecca is my favourite movie, I get either a blank stare of perplexity from the vast majority of people who’ve never heard of it, or occasionally, a surprised lift of an eyebrow from someone who has. Granted, I don’t really look like a girl that would adore a black-and-white psycho-sexual drama made in 1940 by one of the most famously chauvinistic directors of all time, Alfred Hitchcock. I look like a girl that would adore Amelie, or Lost in Translation. And I do. But without a doubt, this is the movie that I have watched the most. It is the movie I put on when I want to feel like myself.
It is based upon a novel by Daphne du Maurier, possibly one of the greatest female writers to have ever lived. It is about a poor and naive young woman (played by the gorgeous, late, great Joan Fontaine – one of the most under-rated movie starlets), who meets a brooding millionaire called Maxim de Winter. They fall madly in love and get married, before he whisks her off to the Cornish coast to live in his castle. So far, so Mills & Boon. But it gets good. When they arrive in his gothic mansion overlooking the sea, the new young wife has to come to terms with the reality of being ‘the second Mrs de Winter’, living under the shadow of Rebecca, Maxim’s recently-deceased first wife. Everywhere she turns she hears tales of Rebecca’s beauty, charm, grace and intelligence; leaving her feeling like a piece of shit, basically. She questions her relationship with her husband, and his love for her. She struggles to fit the pre-designed mould of a high-society hostess that is placed upon her, the mould that fit Rebecca so well. She feels like a failure because she cannot live up to this impossible standard, and nearly goes mad from comparing herself to a ghost.
Some crazy shit happens in this movie, and I won’t spoil it all. There are creepy cousins, dead bodies, sex scandals, a costume ball, a big fire and a very sinister Sapphic housekeeper. A lot of people would argue that it is anti-feminist; demonizing beautiful, independent or highly-sexual women. Admittedly, it magnifies female jealousy to grotesque proportions. But for me, Daphne du Maurier’s novel shines through Hitchcock’s misogyny; and her un-named, shy, fiercely devoted protagonist is one of most endearing characters in literature. She is another Jane Eyre.
The thing I love most about it are the all-too-recognisable emotions of its heroine. Who hasn’t idolised another woman, to the point of making ourselves unhappy? Who hasn’t fixated on an idea of what we have to be in order to be beautiful, a success, or even loved? I love Rebecca for the simple reason that it teaches us how destructive, how warped, and how dangerous it can be to chase a ghost; to compare ourselves to someone else, or to an image of someone else that we have created in our own minds. That, and it has some awesome 40’s hairstyles in it.