Rebecca ending explained: What happened to the first Mrs. de Winter?

Rebecca (L to R) Lily James as Mrs. de Winter, Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter. Cr. KERRY BROWN/NETFLIX
Rebecca (L to R) Lily James as Mrs. de Winter, Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter. Cr. KERRY BROWN/NETFLIX /

Was it murder or suicide? Here, Rebecca’s ending is explained.

Even before the young and unsophisticated second Mrs. de Winter (Lily James) crosses Manderley’s threshold, she’s haunted by her predecessor, Rebecca. And, so it seems is her husband, Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). But it’s not because he harbors a deep and undying love for his first wife, or because he’s still mourning her sudden and tragic death, as we find out at the end of Rebecca.

The Netflix version of the romantic suspense based on Daphne du Maurier’s book differs slightly from both the novel and the famous Alfred Hitchcock version. However, it still retains the most important aspects.

The second Mrs. de Winter learns in bits and pieces what happened to Maxim’s first wife. At first, she knew only that Rebecca had died suddenly. Eventually, she learns Rebecca drowned in a sailing accident, but at first no boat nor body was found.

The mystery unravels on Rebecca

Being the tender soul that she is, the new Mrs. de Winter empathizes how hard that had to have been on Maxim. Her heart breaks for him again when she next finds out that two months afterward, a body did wash up down the coast at Edgecombe. Maxim positively identifies it as Rebecca’s.

How horrible that had to be for him, his new wife thinks. No wonder he’s haunted by the death of his wonderfully glamourous and accomplished first wife. Nay, first love.

Except, he’s got to once again relive the pain of losing his beloved Rebecca when a trawler runs aground. As it’s being recovered, up comes Rebecca’s boat, Je Reviens. But there’s a surprise waiting aboard, Rebecca’s actual remains.

So whose body had Maxim identified?

When the new Mrs. de Winter finds her husband in Rebecca’s boathouse (a.k.a. lover’s rendezvous she-shed) shortly after her boat is recovered, she believes he’s so grief-stricken because his heart is breaking anew.


He not only confesses he knew the body he identified and buried was not Rebecca’s, but that he played a part in killing her and tried to cover it up by making it look like she’d died in a boating accident.

He doesn’t expect his current wife to understand, but he explains to her anyway that Rebecca tormented him. Theirs had always been a loveless marriage. She’d only married him for his money and status. She’d always had multiple lovers, including one, who she informed him on the night she died, whose baby she was carrying.

She put a gun in his hand and pressed it against her belly. She’d taunted him into killing her, knowing he wanted to be free of her but that he’d never divorce her and disgrace his family’s name like that. But neither could he pretend to be a father to a child that wasn’t his. She knew there was one way out for him and goaded him into taking it.

Did Maxim take the bate?

The new Mrs. de Winter is at first horrified by the revelation, but she’s also relieved to learn Maxim hated Rebecca and found her vile.

Maxim encourages her to leave him. Obviously, he understands, and expects, her not to want to be married to a monster.

But she doesn’t see him that way. She sees him as human. He made a mistake, both in marrying Rebecca and in trying to cover up her death, but she’s already calculating how to explain that. How to make everything better.

But Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), Manderley’s housekeeper and Rebecca’s loyal advocate, refuses to surrender Manderley to the new Mrs. de Winter. She’ll do whatever it takes, including pointing the finger at Maxim as Rebecca’s murderer, to break up the happy couple.

Danvers, with the help of Rebecca’s cousin and lover, Jack Favell (Sam Riley), sets out to prove Maxim killed Rebecca, likely because she told him she was pregnant with Favell’s baby. There’s no way Rebecca would’ve killed herself, as Maxim tries to lead everyone to believe.

But the new Mrs. de Winter refuses to go down without a fight. She seeks out the doctor who treated Rebecca and who Rebecca had seen the day she died. That’s how she discovers Rebecca wasn’t pregnant at all. Her swollen belly and feeling sick all the time was from terminal cancer.

The authorities no longer see any reason to pursue criminal charges against Maxim. Not now that they have a reason why Rebecca would’ve taken her life.

Mrs. Danvers still isn’t satisfied. Even though she’s been let go and banished from Manderley, she sneaks back and sets fire to it. As she stands on a cliff poised to leap, the new Mrs. de Winter’s kindness and resolve shines through.

“Mrs Danvers! Please!” she screams. “Please come away.”

“You asked for my help. Here it is.” Mrs. Danvers says.

“Mrs. Danvers, please.”

“He killed the only person I loved. I can’t let you have Manderley. It was ours, you see.”

“You don’t have to do this.”

“I know you’ll stand by him. But you’ll never know happiness.”

Seeing Mrs. Danvers is set on her action, in a verbal checkmate, the new Mrs. de Winter defiantly and confidently says, “Yes, I will.”

And she does.

Danny, as Favel affectionately referred to her, tried her hardest not only to drive a wedge between Maxim and his new wife but to take everything from them. First Maxim’s freedom, then Manderley. Even the current Mrs. de Winter’s sanity.

She succeeded in destroying their home, but she underestimated Maxim’s new bride, who never believed in ghosts and refuses to let the dead or their memories haunt her.

The movie ends with the new Mrs. de Winter waking from a nightmare to thumb through photos of her and a happy Maxim in Cairo.

It’s a much sexier and romantic ending than any other adaptation, and also more hopeful. It’s definitely one for those who believe true love conquers all.

Rebecca is now available to stream on Netflix.

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