Part of the timeless appeal of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” has always been the imposing presence of the legendary manor house known as Manderley. It’s an essential character that embodies the mystery and power of the deceased Rebecca, who continues to haunt everyone from beyond the grave. And, of course, who can ever forget that immortal, opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”?
Manderley was so important to director Ben Wheatley’s Netflix remake (starring Lily James as Mrs. de Winter, Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter, and Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers) that it demanded a great deal of creative planning and design. There was even a line item in the budget called “Rebecca” in reference to Manderley. “Ben said he liked the idea that the second Mrs. de Winter walks into this house and is overwhelmed by the sense of wonder and scale,” said six-time Oscar-nominated production designer Sarah Greenwood (most recently for “Darkest Hour” and “Beauty and the Beast” in 2018).
Manderley was thus conceived as a composite of different places with no sense of geography, out of a dreamscape. “It starts off as Elizabethan, then you turn a corner and you’re into Georgian, you turn another corner and you’re into Victorian, and then you turn another corner, and it’s Edwardian,” Greenwood added.
But where to find such an amazing place?
By utilizing the exteriors and interiors of several English country houses and estates. After scouring the region, they wound up shooting at Cranborne Manor (Dorset), Hatfield House (Hertfordshire), Mapperton House (Dorset), Loseley House (Surrey), Petworth House (West Sussex), Hartland Quay (Devon), Blegberry Farm (Devon), and Osterley House (Isleworth).
“The exterior was Cranborne Manor, and what I really liked about that was this idea that Manderley is a hidden house,” said Greenwood. “You come down to it and it’s buried in the woods. And it’s full of secrets and there is something not immediately appealing about it. And to create the grounds around it, we went to Mapperton House, which had this beautiful sunken garden. And you could believe that you would go down and down and down to the cliffs, which were shot in Devon.”
The interior of the main house was Hatfield House, a chameleon-like, 17th century country estate, which lent itself to being reinterpreted with different styles and moods. The curious thing about Manderley, though, is that it’s a combination of the soft, mellow, aristocratic de Winter image and Rebecca’s Hollywood-like glam appeal. “There were sensuous fabrics she brought in — velvet, satins, a polar bear skin rug — but when you finally go into Rebecca’s bedroom, her world, it’s such a contrast to everything else in the house,” added Greenwood.
Indeed, Rebecca’s mirrored bedroom represents Greenwood’s great, standalone achievement on the movie. It best captures Rebecca’s hidden character, full of glass and sharp edges, and decorated with marine-colored silk wallpaper and curtains done in a hypnotic moire pattern (symbolic of the water motif tied to her death). “She’s like a knife through the heart of Manderley,” the production designer said.
Kerry Brown / Netflix
The bedroom — cut off from Manderley in a West Wing — was the only set build (done in an industrial warehouse, which was cheaper and easier than on a soundstage). “We took the floor plan of the East Wing, where Maxim and Mrs. de Winter stay, and flipped it to the West Wing,” added Greenwood. “We took the architecture and basically knocked it about, looking at what Rebecca would’ve done. It would’ve been hyper-modern at the time [the ’30s].”
Best of all, however, were the mirrors leading to the bedroom: a concept inspired by the fun house in Orson Welles’ “The Lady From Shanghai.” “In a way, because it wasn’t over-planned, it was very successful,” Greenwood said. “We shot it through a two-way mirror and the rushes were amazing the way it gave you every single shot [of the mirror]. It functioned as an air lock between the house and the West Wing. It was like walking into a hall of mirrors, which was a horror.”