Behind the scenes of Netflix film Rebecca
- Credit: Kerry Brown/NETFLIX
Everything you need to know about the upcoming release’s Dorset locations, costumes and more
The road to Manderley lay ahead ...well, the dusty track to Mapperton lay ahead. As the great house comes into view, the car park and the field beyond is filled with trailers and generators. I’ve been invited to the set of the Netflix film of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel Rebecca. Featuring a glittering cast including Armie Hammer, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas and Keeley Hawes, I am here to meet the people who will reimagine du Maurier’s Manderley for a new millennium.
First on my list is costume designer Julian Day. Sporting a snappy broad-brimmed hat, shades and a nose ring, he cuts a striking figure as he walks towards me in the shimmering July heat. The elegant, upper-class country set of Daphne du Maurier’s 1930s England must be quite a change of milieu for this award-winning designer, who created the costumes for two recent British films about flamboyant larger-than-life leading men: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and last year’s Rocket Man, for which Julian deployed “sack-loads of Swarovski crystals.”
“Though they are worlds apart in terms of look, every film has a combination of a script, the characters and their clothes,” Julian observes. Rebecca does include some high-end glitz and glamour. “Chopard lent us some fabulous diamond jewellery for the ball scene for Lily and Keeley,” he reveals.
Julian graduated with a First in theatre design at Birmingham City University, then worked at the Angels, the largest privately owned collection of costume for film, theatre and television in the world. In his first month he looked after 300 pairs of evening dress trousers. After that he worked with the designers and learned about the different periods of fashion through the ages. “I eventually set out on my own, working on films, which gradually got bigger and bigger.”
Julian took inspiration from a variety of sources as he set about dressing the cast, poring over photographs of 1930s fashion and emulating figures such as Wallis Simpson, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo for Lily James’s character, and Errol Flynn, Anthony Eden, and Prince Edward for Armie Hammer’s. The result is a striking mix of silhouettes that are both classic and modern.
The action moves between a sun-drenched Monte Carlo in the South of France and the more sombre English countryside. “Having these two worlds makes the design really interesting,” says Julian. “Max (Maxim de Winter, a British aristocrat played by Armie Hammer), meets Daphne, a quiet, reticent and naïve young woman and their romance blossoms against a backdrop of sun and sea.”
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The majority of the pieces that Lily James wears in Monte Carlo were vintage in order to affect a deliberately worn-in look that suited her character’s lower social standing. “I used pale linens, floral patterns and straw hats,” says Julian. “I even put Daphne in trousers as I wanted to make her quite a modern woman.”
Julian used colour to reflect the power shift in the characters as the story plays out. “In an early production meeting, we talked about Maxim being Daphne’s prize. She is desperate to escape the servitude of her employer Mrs Van Hopper. When she first sees Maxim de Winter, he’s wearing a gold coloured linen suit. He almost looks like a golden Oscar, that’s what she is there to win in some respect. Going back to Manderley I used darker more brooding colours, including a lot of green, reflecting the English countryside. By the end of the film Daphne starts to take on the persona of Rebecca, she wears a gold coloured Chanel suit. So, you get these bookends of colour coding of the characters: As he diminishes, she rises.”
Julian had a very clear idea of the signature look for Mrs Danvers, the sinister housekeeper (played by Kristin Scott Thomas). “I wanted to make Danvers look stylish and sexy but in an intimidating and predatory way, giving her a slightly dominatrix-like vibe.” The skirt is a touch too tight, the heels a bit too high.
“My initial idea was to present her like a bruise. She was the wound of Manderley and so all her colours – aubergines, blues and ochres – are reflective of a bruise as it changes over time.”
Danvers’ outfit was an amalgamation of three suits, which Julian redesigned for Kristin. “It was paired with a thirties-style pussy bow blouse. By the end of the film Daphne is wearing a Chanel suit with a pussy bow blouse, having taken over the role of Danvers.”
Daphne’s suit reflects the lengths Julian went to. He bought a large amount of old Chanel fabric that he found in a shop in Paris. “Within my finds was a gold coloured material, so I created this Chanel-style suit for Lily. She has this ability to make anything look spectacular...boy can she wear clothes!
“Armie, Lily, Kristin and Sam (Riley) are a dream to dress,” he exclaims. At 6 foot 5 inches, almost all of Armie’s costumes were designed specifically for him. “He is very well-proportioned so the clothes look amazing on him,” says Julian.
Though the Netflix film is based on the original 1938 book, rather than Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Oscar-winning film, Julian admits that Hitchock did influence some of his design ideas. “There is a nod towards Tippi Hedren in The Birds and Marnie, and Kim Novak in Vertigo, in Daphne’s look.”
Julian worked closely with Rebecca’s production designer Sarah Greenwood (Atonement, Beauty and the Beast, Darkest Hour). “At our initial meetings with Ben Wheatley, the director on Rebecca, we discuss how we visualise the film, whether we need the character to stand out, or blend into a set. Then we do our research and build the vision for the film from there including set design, clothes and locations.”
So, how do you begin to create Manderley, a house described by du Maurier as “secretive and silent as it had always been … a jewel in the hollow of a hand”. Enter Adam Richards, Supervising Location Manager on Rebecca, a former drama student who describes himself as: “the bricks and mortar man”. “My job is to realise the director’s and production designers’ vision of this film and find the locations to match the brief,” he explains.
“Manderley is such an important character in Rebecca,” Adam says. “In the book it is described as having a mix of period styles, as subsequent owners added to it, so we decided that rather than one house we would look for three or four.”
Actually, seven houses feature in Rebecca. Mapperton House is used for the gardens, The Orangery, and for the interiors of Rebecca’s wing – her morning room and her flower room; Hatfield House in Hertfordshire provides the formal grander rooms of Manderley; Loseley House near Guildford contributes the East Wing’s bedrooms; Petworth House in West Sussex is the set for the estate office, estate yard and the sculpture gallery; all the below stairs scenes were filmed at Osterley House, near Heathrow; Cranborne Manor in Dorset provides the exteriors for Manderley including the main drive and entrance; various rooms at Ham House in Richmond Park provide Mrs Danvers’ bedroom, the police station and coroner’s court and last, but not least, Hartland Quay in Devon the backdrop for all the boat, beach and cliff scenes.
“Sarah (Greenwood) found Cranborne and we knew it was right,” says Adam. “By a stroke of luck, the same family (Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury) also own Hatfield House, so this made life a lot easier when setting up the filming.”
The whole shoot itself takes 10 weeks, and I’m on set for the final day at Mapperton, the following day shooting starts at Cranborne. “I’ve always said that a film crew is like a travelling circus, you have this huge encampment that you set up. Part of my job is to make sure it all goes smoothly,” he says. Mapperton’s owners, the Earl and Countess of Sandwich are used to film crews at their beautiful Jacobean house and gardens. Far From the Madding Crowd, Restoration and Emma all used Mapperton as a location.
Their son Luke, and his wife Julie (who writes a column for this magazine), now look after the estate. Before taking up the reins, Luke was involved in the film business. He founded one of the largest film schools in the country, the MetFilm School at Ealing Studios in London. “Whenever there is filming at Mapperton, we always make sure they have some of our students working on the set,” says Luke.
He then gives me some insider knowledge about how they blended the different locations of Manderley: “Here, they converted one of the doorways in the library to replicate a doorway at Petworth. Daphne walks from the sculpture gallery in Petworth, West Sussex through the door to the staircase hall at Mapperton in West Dorset.”
Surely Mapperton must be any location manager’s dream booking? “My mother would say that makes me a little too accommodating!” Luke laughs. “She did give me one sensible piece of advice when they wanted to film in the house, ‘remove everything from the drawing room just in case it gets damaged’. I did leave a couple of paintings including the 4th Earl of Sandwich by Joshua Reynolds.” So, the Earl that invented the great British snack looks down on Daphne in her morning room!
On one of the monitors, set up in the tented media village on the lawn, I watch Lily James do take after take, looking through the desk drawers then picking up the telephone to answer it, as the director suggests different angles.
Watching with me is Nira Park the film’s executive producer. “Rebecca is not my usual genre,” she admits. “I’ve tended to do more horror, thriller and action stuff.” She produced the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End).
“Sarah Greenwood’s attention to detail is amazing. If you went into Daphne’s morning room, and opened the drawers of her desk you would find a beautifully written invoice for the lanterns for the ball and authentic brochures from the thirties. It’s the details that the audience will never see that help the actors to really feel like they are in that period. It’s so rare that you work with a production designer who creates a 360-degree world,” Nira enthuses.
Nira tells me how complex the shoot has been, as cast and crew have hopped between locations in London, Surrey, Sussex, Dorset and Devon. The previous evening they filmed the ball preparations, with bunting and lanterns decorating the pool area at Mapperton. “We loved the way the gardens sweep down to that never-ending view,” Nira adds. “The ball takes place at Hatfield House, shot a few weeks ago, and the arrival of guests is at Cranborne, which we shoot tomorrow. Yes, it’s complicated but when edited together, it will look incredible.”
Rebecca took eight years to get to this point. “We knew who we wanted for the three main roles, but we had to wait for Lily, who was in the play All About Eve, and Armie had two films to finish, but eventually the planets aligned and it all happened,” she smiles.
“The first day’s shoot was the opening scene at the Ancien Hôtel Régina in Nice, where we see Daphne arrive with some packages. It’s a crane shot which takes in the elegant exterior of the hotel with its bellhops, an amazing array of vintage cars, a charabanc filled with smartly dressed women and the beautiful people in their stylish outfits. You feel like you have stepped into the 1930s. I remember thinking wow I’m part of this, and I’m filming my favourite book.”
Rebecca is in select cinemas from 16 October and on Netflix from 21 October. Mapperton Gardens are open Sunday – Thursday, mapperton.com