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What Affect Does Hitchcock’s Changing Of The Ending Of Rebecca Have On The Story?

A screen shot of Joan Fontaine and Lawrence Olivier as the heroine and Max in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca

Screen shot from Rebecca, copyright © 1940 Selznick International Pictures.

You can rest assured this will be the last post on this book here for a long time, if not forever.

In the film adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s book, Max does not kill Rebecca. He talks to the heroine in the boat house but doesn’t say he did it. This difference to the book was made because at the time films could not show a criminal getting away with the crime.

You’d be forgiven for not noticing the difference, I think – this sounds weird when you consider I’m all for adaptation fidelity – but what Hitchcock does is make his film as near as possible to the original as he could.

I want to look at the affect this change has on the story. Crucially, in not having Max kill Rebecca, the film does not make him in any sense a bad person, it preserves his good name entirely. Whilst it could be said that Max, in the book, in killing Rebecca is no better than her, is worse than her, the same can’t be said for Lawrence Olivier’s Max. Of course we don’t necessarily see ‘book’ Max as bad – Du Maurier presents a man deeply upset, ashamed, and if we view Rebecca as horrible a person as Du Maurier wants us to then we can say Max killed Rebecca without really thinking it through, that he was not fully competent at the time due to what Rebecca had done. And the element of jealousy makes Max not seem so bad a person. That jealousy is very pervasive, Du Maurier good at manipulation.

To get rid of the kill as Hitchcock does is to preserve Max’s name and as only the heroine, in the book, knew of the killing, we can say it is to preserve his name for us, the readers and watchers.

As far as the film goes with its difference, Max comes across as better than Rebecca. He’s clean, done nothing wrong. He’s a proper good guy, more of a hero than book Max could ever be.

What the change does, though, away from this, is that it affects the sense of jealousy and the sense of revenge in the story. Yes, it could be considered a good thing because of what I’ve said above, but in toning it down it diffuses the pressure behind the idea that Du Maurier wanted something done to Rebecca to make up for the problems. Given what we know of the real life background – Du Maurier’s jealousy of her husband’s first fiancée – we can see a want for something to happen, for Du Maurier to want to do something to change things and the way she feels. Max killing Rebecca is over the top but, given artistic license, it works. In a way, when considering the book, and the film’s change, it changes our thoughts of Du Maurier, too.

Considering Du Maurier’s worry that her book had caused Jan Ricardo’s death we could assume the film change was welcomed by her.

In a way, the change seems a small thing, especially as it doesn’t change the general outcome, but when you think it over, it does do something to the way we perceive Max and perhaps the way we view the book’s themes, too.


Tracy Terry

August 15, 2016, 4:37 pm

Though a while since I actually read this book, it seems to be following me at the moment.

A suggested read for my reader’s group – most of us having already read it we opted for something different. Niece #2 has been studying it for her GCSE course and then the film was featured at an event held at our library recently.


August 23, 2016, 1:47 pm

Tracy Terry: That sounds scarily relevant! Your reader’s group sounds fab; all that shared knowledge that extends to books you didn’t read together.



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