This opening is very different from the previous British films by Hitchcock. You immediately notice the quality of the film is much higher than the British films and once you see the gates and, then, Manderley you know the budget was obviously much higher. The mood of this opening is immediately dark, gothic, foggy, sinister, and foreboding, similar to "The Lodger," but very different from most of the other films, such as "The Pleasure Garden," "The 39 Steps," "The Lady Vanishes," and "The Man Who Knew Too Much." It is lonely and abandoned which is totally unlike the public places, crowds, and noisy fast-paced action of the previous openings. This has an extremely slow, meandering pace (and slow moody music) with a slow, almost groggy/dreamy narration (the voiceover is also totally different from any of the other openings. The very beginning of the opening doesn't present any characters except Manderley and the unseen narrator. It also doesn't show any action or crime, but you feel a foreboding or dread. And, finally, it doesn't have any comedic aspects that were present in the previous British film openings.
There are many examples of the "Hitchcock Touch" in this opening. Immediately, you notice the dark, foggy, sinister gothic mood (Hitchcock is great at atmosphere)! And you "feel" that mood. There is a feeling of dread, foreboding, and apprehension. When you finally see Olivier and Fontaine, you immediately feel concerned for them, especially Fontaine who appears so meek and ordinary. Hitchcock wanted your feelings to be totally involved in the film. He also liked to present ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Fontaine appears very ordinary in the opening and, from the narration, we anticipate something extraordinary is going to happen to her. We also feel a potential romance at their first meeting (helped by the romantic music and beautiful scenery). You already get the feeling that the location is more than just a backdrop, the cliffs and crashing waves (and, of course, Manderley) all will figure prominently in the story. Also, the POV shots and camera angles in this opening are clearly a "Hitchcock Touch." He also liked to provide information to the audience that the characters don't know and this is evident in the beginning "dream" section of the opening. We already know that something is going to happen to destroy Manderley.
Manderley is definitely a character in this story. In the voiceover narration, she refers to the house, and introduces it to us, as if it is a person (with a face and feelings). Actually, it seems that the only real character information provided in this opening is about Manderley. While some of that information is provided in the narration, the majority is provided visually with the almost totally overgrown drive, dark forbidding atmosphere, the large ornate exterior, and, eventually, the destroyed burned-out shell.
The beginning of this opening, with the voiceover narration, is actually presenting our advance knowledge about the end result of the story (i.e., the destruction of Manderley). Then, we flashback to the south of France and the beginning of the story when the Olivier and Fontaine characters first meet. The atmosphere is brighter and the music is more upbeat and romantic, but we still feel the lingering dread. We also start worrying about the characters because we know something bad is going to happen. We wonder if Olivier was contemplating suicide and we wonder why he is so unpleasant to Fontaine, especially since there is an anticipation of romance between the pair. When Fontaine speaks to Olivier, we recognize her voice and realize that she is the one who will be involved in whatever eventually destroys Manderley.