Daphne du Maurier films: the 7 best adaptations, from The Birds to Rebecca

Posted by for Books

From The Birds to My Cousin Rachel, these Daphne du Maurier TV and film adaptations are perfect for anyone who’s already obsessed with Netflix’s Rebecca

Updated on 20 October: Netflix’s Rebecca – starring Lily James and Armie Hammer – is coming to Netflix this week, and people are incredibly, incredibly excited about it. 

And why shouldn’t they be, eh? The star-studded film is, after all, an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s hugely successful 1938 novel of the same name. A novel which, even all these years later, still proves itself to be incredibly popular with readers: indeed, some 4,000 copies are sold every single month.

As fans of the author will know all too well, though, Rebecca is not the only Daphne du Maurier book worth reading. Hell, it’s not even the only Daphne du Maurier book worth watching, as many of her literary works have been adapted for the big and small screen alike.

As reported on 12 August: So, whether you’re in the mood to binge a TV miniseries or have time for movies aplenty, we’ve rounded up just a few of our favourite du Maurier adaptations – all of which boast that same moody and resonant style you feel in love with in Rebecca

Happy viewing.

My Cousin Rachel (2017)

Confession time: this writer has always preferred the razor-sharp tension of My Cousin Rachel to Rebecca. Without giving away too many spoilers, this du Maurier story focuses on Philip (played in this film by Sam Claflin), who plots revenge against his mysterious, beautiful, dark-eyed cousin (Rachel Weisz). Why? Because he believes wholeheartedly that she murdered his guardian, of course. 

As he gropes his way blindly towards the truth of the matter, though, Philip finds himself falling under Rachel’s beguiling spell himself. Can he trust her? 

And, perhaps more importantly, can he trust himself?

Frenchman’s Creek (1944)

If you’re in the mood for an Oscar-winning film about a woman who falls madly in love with a French Pirate and is swept off her feet and into a world of adventure, then (surprise!) you’ve come to the right place. 

That’s right: Dona St. Columb (Joan Fontaine) might have had it all – wealth, nobility, children – but she was trapped in a loveless marriage. After years of being ignored and mistreated, she decided to start a new life overlooking the ocean. And, yeah, when she learns of a scoundrel of a pirate, who has been plundering nearby coastal villages, she sets forth to seek him.

Cue some high romance, a seaborne adventure, and gorgeous costumes, and you have a du Marier adaptation that perfectly encapsulates the golden age Hollywood escapism. 

The Birds (1963)

Perhaps one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous movies, it’s easy to forget that this genuinely disturbing thriller was originally a short story by du Maurier. 

For those who don’t know the plot, the title does kind of give it away: Melanie (Tippi Hedren) follows Mitch (Rod Taylor) to his home in Bodega Bay to play a practical joke on him. Things take a bizarre turn, though, when the birds in the area begin to viciously attack the people there.

Don’t Look Now (1973)

Another dark short story from du Maurier spun into a horror film, Don’t Look Now is a poignant, beautiful and devastating portrayal of grief and parenthood.

The film is driven by bereaved parents Laura (Julie Christie) and John Baxter (Donald Sutherland), who head to Venice, Italy, after the accidental death of their young daughter to restore a church. There, they meet with two sisters (Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania) who claim to be in touch with the spirit of the Baxters’ daughter. 

Laura, keen to connect with her little girl, takes them seriously, but John scoffs… until he himself catches a glimpse of what looks like Christine running through the streets of Venice. 

The Scapegoat (2012)

Fans of Fleabag’s Hot Priest will be pleased to know that Andrew Scott stars in this unsettling du Maurier adaptation.

Yes, there are significant differences between this adaptation and the original novel (the latter takes place in France, while this screen version is set in the UK), the mood of du Maurier’s underrated tale is not lost as an unemployed teacher (Matthew Rhys) meets his exact double in a British pub and quickly becomes sucked into the man’s wrecked life.

My Cousin Rachel (1952)

Same story, different actors, far more awards. Yes, this version of My Cousin Rachel, starring Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland, is considered by many to be an absolute classic. It’s worth noting, though, that du Maurier herself was… well, let’s just say she was less than thrilled with de Havilland’s portrayal of Rachel.

You’ve been warned.

Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine in Rebecca

Rebecca (1940)

Oh yeah, you didn’t think you’d make it through this list without a reference to the other Rebecca now, did you?

This version, starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won two, including Best Picture. And, yeah, it weaves that all-too-familiar tale of lust and jealousy. However, as previously noted by Stylist’s Hannah Rose Yee, Hitchcock’s adaptation of Rebecca had to pare back its provocations and immorality in order to adhere to the prescriptive Hays Code, Hollywood’s list of guidelines for what could and couldn’t be shown onscreen between 1930 and 1968. This included profanity – including God, Lord, Jesus, Christ, hell and damn – nudity, drug use, interracial relationships, scenes of childbirth and basically anything too sexy or suggestive.

Which means that, yeah, it spins a far less sexy version of the du Maurier classic than that we have in our heads. Go figure. Fingers crossed the Netflix version better sates our desires, eh?

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Images: Netflix/Getty

Share this article

Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

Recommended by Kayleigh Dray