Lily James said Kristin Scott Thomas was ‘so absolutely terrifying’ as scary housekeeper Mrs Danvers when they were filming the new version of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic thriller Rebecca she felt compelled to obey her every command.
‘I almost jumped out of a window when she told me to!’ James admitted, as we discussed what it was like working on the film adaptation of the romantic murder mystery that’s still selling more than 50,000 copies a year, eight decades after it was first published.
Luckily for James, it was a film-set window, hence ‘like only two inches off the ground’.
Also luckily, there was plenty of light relief between takes when the actors weren’t inhabiting their characters, all of them oppressed by the shadow of Rebecca.
‘Oh, God, we were really hamming it up when we weren’t in front of the cameras!’ James told me.
Lily James used Sylvia Plath’s poetry to help her get under the skin of the naive woman she plays in the new version of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca
Co-star Armie Hammer joined in, too. The Hollywood actor plays wealthy widower Maxim de Winter, owner of Manderley, the sprawling, intimidating mansion haunted by memories of his late wife Rebecca, the first Mrs de Winter.
When Maxim and James’s character, the unnamed narrator meet (and yes, she does utter the immortal line: ‘Last night I dreamt I was at Manderley again’ as the opening credits of director Ben Wheatley’s sumptuous and suspenseful film roll), she is working as a companion to vulgar American Mrs Van Hopper (a deliciously icky turn by Ann Dowd).
Wheatley and screenwriter Jane Goldman focused on different parts of James’s character (jokingly referred to as Daphne on set, since we never know her first name) ‘so that you feel the complexity of who she is’.
James used the poetry of Sylvia Plath — particularly one called Mad Girl’s Love Song — to help her get under the skin of the naive young woman she plays in the film, which will be available on Netflix from October 21. ‘What girl goes and marries this man, and goes off to his house, without really knowing him?’ she asked, of the second Mrs de Winter.
James told me she had the feeling, during filming, that her fascination with the book, and her character, combined with Wheatley’s sometimes trippy and psychedelic take on the tale, meant viewers were ‘going to be inside my head’ when they watched the film.
Well, I certainly jumped when she did; and felt her terror when she awoke, in a cold sweat, to find herself entangled in the ivy that had somehow come alive from a pattern on her bedspread.
James is incredible as she goes from virginal ward to a woman propelled by the power of love.
Lily James said Kristin Scott Thomas (both pictured) was ‘so absolutely terrifying’ as housekeeper Mrs Danvers in Rebecca, which will be available on Netflix from October 21
Scott Thomas is superb, too. There’s a marvellously shocking scene where Mrs Danvers is in Rebecca’s mirrored dressing room, brushing her new mistress’s hair with increasingly brutal strokes. James’s pale face is reflected, looking as if the life is being drained from her.
Scott Thomas told me she begged Working Title producer Eric Fellner to give her the part of Mrs Danvers. ‘I wanted that mixture of jealousy, of envy, of rage!’ she said. ‘You feel she’s a woman of catastrophically reduced circumstances.’
The generational conflict — ‘the older woman despising the younger woman’ — also appealed to her.
As Mrs Danvers, in navy blue suit and rouge silk blouse — a reminder of the blood red rhododendrons her darling Rebecca loved — Scott Thomas makes a formidable foe for James’s ‘shy, uneasy colt’, as she’s referred to in the book.
‘Danvers has poured all her energies into bringing Rebecca up and creating this kind of monster — because Rebecca was a monster,’ Scott Thomas told me.
The award-winning star stressed that this new Rebecca is based on Du Maurier’s tome and not Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 classic, which starred Laurence Olivier as de Winter, Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs de Winter, and Judith Anderson as Danvers.
‘We’re doing an adaptation for today, with the idea that women aren’t necessarily the weaker sex,’ she said.
When I spoke to Hammer on the set he said his character, Maxim, had also been ‘modernised’; though he still had plenty of secrets.
Accents clearly denoted class back then, but the actor, who captures de Winter’s urbane exterior, which conceals his inner turmoil, opted for a tone that’s less clipped and dated than Olivier’s. ‘Still posh, though,’ he noted.
The producers at Working Title and Netflix spent as much time searching for the perfect Manderley as they did their leading actors.
Armie Hammer said his character Maxim, (pictured with Lily James as Daphne) has been ‘modernised’. Accents denoted class back then, but the actor opted for a tone less clipped
‘The house is a massive character,’ said Sarah Greenwood, who won a Bafta for her production design on Atonement and has been nominated for six Oscars. A character that no one location could fill, as it turns out.
The Manderley in the film is ‘a complete jigsaw’, she admitted. The exterior is Cranborne Manor in Dorset; though some shots of the rear of the house (plus office scenes) were filmed at Osterley Park in Isleworth, West London.
Key interior scenes were captured at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. And the lush grounds of Manderley were actually filmed at Mapperton, also in Dorset.
And Rebecca’s opulent suite? ‘Built at some bloody warehouse in Wembley.’
Greenwood offered ‘many apologies to Cornwall’, but said that for a number of reasons they weren’t able to shoot any scenes in the county itself.
Even the Cornish sea was actually the waters off Hartland Quay in North Devon.
She and Wheatley were beguiled by the rock formation of shale and sandstone there, which made it look like ‘shark fins protruding from the water’.
‘Ben was happy because the beach looked as haunted as the house,’ Greenwood said.
One of the first films to continue where they left off before the shutdown is director Edgar Wright’s Last Night In Soho, starring Anya Taylor-Joy (below, so good in Emma this spring), Matt Smith and Thomasin McKenzie.
One of the first films to continue where they left off before the shutdown is director Edgar Wright’s Last Night In Soho, starring Anya Taylor-Joy (above) and Matt Smith
McKenzie flew in from New Zealand, where she had just completed shooting Jane Campion’s western The Power Of The Dog, based on Thomas Savage’s cult novel about two rival siblings played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons.
All those who turned up at Pinewood Studios were glad to be working again, though the stringent safety protocols took some getting used to.
All the locations Wright had planned to use were scrapped and remaining scenes will be filmed on either a sound-stage or the studio backlot, standing in for Soho streets and coffee shops.
The search is on for a leading man (in his mid-30s) to join star Rachel Weisz in A Special Relationship — written by Simon Beaufoy — in which Oscar-winner Weisz portrays Elizabeth Taylor.
Producers of the picture, to be directed by filmmaking duo Bert & Bertie, are looking for a top actor to portray Roger Wall, who was Elizabeth’s secretary throughout the 1980s.
The search is on for a leading man (in his mid-30s) to join star Rachel Weisz in A Special Relationship, written by Simon Beaufoy, in which Oscar-winner Weisz portrays Elizabeth Taylor
Wall and Rock Hudson spurred the movie legend to become an activist in Aids research.
Several projects have been abandoned because of the pandemic but Weisz and her colleagues are determined that A Special Relationship will start filming next year.
The enthralling documentary Coup 53 tells how the CIA and British Intelligence ‘assisted’ in the overthrow of Iran’s prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, replacing him with the Shah so they could get their hands on the ‘prize’: oil.
Writer and director Taghi Amirani collaborated with Oscar-winning film and sound editor Walter Murch, using eyewitness testimony, re-enactments and found footage. Now Coup 53 will have a special one-off digital and cinema release on August 19.
Sign up via coup53.com for details, plus info on a Q&A with the filmmakers.