Well if it isn’t our old friend Sir Lawrence. And brooding over a deceased family member? What else is new! Maxim de Winter (Olivier) is staring over a cliff at the rocky sea when he’s spotted by Joan Fontaine’s character, a young personal assistant to a wealthy woman. Upper class de Winter lost his wife Rebecca to drowning a year ago, but despite his gloominess, they fall in love and she is soon the new Mrs. de Winter. When he takes her home to Manderlay, his Cornish estate, she struggles to assume the role of lady of the house. There is more to complicate the transition than just a class difference. Rebecca seems to have been everything that Mrs. de Winter II cannot be and her memory is omnipresent throughout Manderlay. Particularly troubling is the chilly contempt Rebecca’s servant Mrs. Danvers shows her new employer. Hints of sinister secrets accumulate as she takes on her new life.
Midway through this film, which I quite enjoyed, I looked at Mouse and remarked that I didn’t know what the leading lady’s name was. He didn’t either. We tried to think back on the film in full to see if the second Mrs. de Winter’s first name is ever mentioned, and couldn’t think of any time it was. Upon further research, I discovered that, in fact, Fontaine’s character is never named. I actually found this a really powerful device because the entire story hinges on her feeling like she cannot compete with the memory or legacy of Maxim’s first wife Rebecca. The fact that she is never even afforded a first name in the entire story helps drive this point home. As audience members, the invisible Rebecca looms large in our imagination, almost serving to overshadow the actual woman whose life we are following. This creates a feeling of ill ease and intrigue, and is part of what makes Rebecca such a fascinating tale. Continue reading