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Rebecca (1940) - Plot Summary Poster

(1940)

Plot

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Summaries

  • A self-conscious woman juggles adjusting to her new role as an aristocrat's wife and avoiding being intimidated by his first wife's spectral presence.

  • A shy lady's companion, staying in Monte Carlo with her stuffy employer, meets the wealthy Maxim de Winter. She and Max fall in love, marry and return to Manderley, his large country estate in Cornwall. Max is still troubled by the death of his first wife, Rebecca, in a boating accident the year before. The second Mrs. de Winter clashes with the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, and discovers that Rebecca still has a strange hold on everyone at Manderley.

  • On holiday in Monte Carlo, the wealthy widower Maxim de Winter meets a young woman who is working as a lady's companion to Mrs. Van Hopper. They spend a good deal of time together and it leads to love and marriage. The second Mrs. de Winter is somewhat overwhelmed however when, after their honeymoon, they return to his vast estate, Manderley. She not only has to deal with a huge house and numerous servants but also with the dour and domineering housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. She soon feels inferior and a disappointment to everyone, particularly her husband Max and Mrs. Danvers - who still adores her dead mistress. Not all is as it seems however particularly after a striking discovery is made in the sea near Manderley.

  • A young woman is in Monte Carlo, working as a ladies' companion, when she meets the recently-widowered, and very wealthy, Maxim De Winter. They fall in love and get married soon thereafter. The De Winters take up residence in Maxim's family estate, Mandalay. Mrs De Winter finds it hard to fit in. The presence of Maxim's deceased wife, Rebecca, seems to permeate through the house and Mrs De Winter can't shake the feeling that she is constantly being compared to her and that she is an interloper. Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca's personal maid, also takes care to make things as uncomfortable as possible for the new Mrs De Winter. Mrs De Winter has the constant fear that memories of Rebecca will drive her and Maxim apart. Over time, she grows to know more and more about Rebecca.

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  • Maxim de Winter, still troubled by the death of his first wife Rebecca, falls in love with a shy ladies' companion. They get married, but the second Mrs. de Winter discovers that Rebecca still has a strong hold on everyone in the house, particularly on Mrs. Denvers, the housekeeper, who begins driving the young wife to madness.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • The film begins with a female voiceover: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again", to images of a ruined country manor.

    The heroine is a very young (and nameless) woman (Joan Fontaine), a paid companion to the wealthy but obnoxious Edythe Van Hopper (Florence Bates). The heroine meets the aristocratic widower Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter (Laurence Olivier) in Monte Carlo. They fall in love, and within two weeks they are married.

    Maxim takes his new bride to Manderley, his country house in Cornwall, England. The housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), is domineering and cold, and is obsessed with the great beauty, intelligence and sophistication of the first Mrs. de Winterthe eponymous Rebeccaand preserves her former bedroom as a shrine. Rebecca's sleazy cousin Jack Favell (George Sanders) appears at the house when Maxim is away.

    The new Mrs. de Winter is intimidated by her responsibilities and begins to doubt her relationship with her husband. The continuous reminders of Rebecca overwhelm her; she believes that Maxim is still deeply in love with Rebecca. She also discovers that her husband sometimes becomes very angry at her for apparently innocent actions.

    Trying to be the perfect wife, the young Mrs. de Winter convinces Maxim to hold a costume party as he did with Rebecca. The heroine tries to plan her own costume, but Mrs. Danvers suggests she copy the beautiful outfit in the portrait of Caroline de Winter, an ancestor. At the party, when the costume is revealed to Maxim he is appalled; Rebecca wore the same outfit at their ball a year ago, shortly before she died. The heroine confronts Danvers, who tells her she can never take Rebecca's place, and almost manages to convince her to jump to her death. A sudden commotion reveals that a ship is sinking.

    The heroine rushes outside, where she hears that during the rescue a sunken boat has been found with Rebecca's body in it. Maxim admits that he had earlier misidentified another body as Rebecca's, in order to conceal the truth. At the very beginning of their marriage Rebecca had told Maxim she intended to continue the promiscuous and perverse sex life she had led before the marriage. He hated her but they agreed to an arrangement: she would act as the perfect wife and hostess in public, and he would ignore Rebecca's privately conducted affairs. Rebecca grew careless and complacent in her dealings, including an ongoing affair with her cousin Jack Favell. One night, Rebecca informed Maxim that she was pregnant with Favell's child. During the ensuing heated argument she fell, hit her head and died. Maxim took the body out in a boat which he then scuttled.

    Shedding the remnants of her girlish innocence, Maxim's wife coaches her husband on how to conceal the mode of Rebecca's death from the authorities. In the police investigation, deliberate damage to the boat points to suicide. Favell shows Maxim a note from Rebecca which seems to indicate she was not suicidal. Favell then tries to blackmail Maxim, but Maxim tells the police. Maxim is now under suspicion of murder. The investigation then focuses on Rebecca's secret visit to a London doctor (Leo G. Carroll), which Favell assumes was due to her illicit pregnancy. However, the coroner's interview with the doctor reveals that Rebecca was mistaken in believing herself pregnant; instead she had a late-stage cancer.

    The doctor's evidence persuades the coroner to render a finding of suicide. Only Frank Crawley (Maxim's best friend and manager of the estate), Maxim, and his wife will know the full story: that Rebecca lied to Maxim about being pregnant with another man's child in order to goad him into killing her, an indirect means of suicide. As Maxim returns home from London to Manderley, he finds the manor on fire, set alight by the deranged Mrs. Danvers. The second Mrs. de Winter and the staff manage to escape the blaze, but Danvers dies in the flames.

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