While Rebecca describes the struggle between good and evil, My Cousin Rachel explores the nature of good and evil. The narrator, Philip Ashley, shifts from one opinion to another as he desperately tries to discover whether Rachel is a murderer and greedy conniver or a hapless victim of circumstance. Since Philip ultimately resolves the problem of Rachel by killing her, readers must also judge whether Philip has killed an innocent woman or struck a necessary blow against evil. As the novel vividly shows, the presence of evil is not easily recognizable, and the true worth of a person is highly subjective.
Du Maurier adapted Rebecca into a three act play, which was produced in London in 1940 and on Broadway in 1945. The most famous adaptation of Rebecca is Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film. Starring Laurence Olivier as Maxim, Joan Fontaine as the second wife, and Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers, it won the 1940 Academy Award for best picture. In an era when leading men portrayed fully heroic figures, it is not surprising that Hitchcock changed the plot so that Maxim kills Rebecca accidentally rather than deliberately. Rebecca was also adapted in 1978 by the British Broadcasting Company and Time-Life Films and shown on television in 1981. This version, starring Jeremy Brett, Joanna David, and Anna Massey, is more faithful to the novel than Hitchcock’s version and received good reviews. Nonetheless, it is less memorable than the Hitchcock film.