Director: Roger Michell
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glen, Holliday Granger
Plot: When Phllip (Claflin) learns of his godfather’s death, he suspects his widow, Rachel (Weisz). As he investigates, he doesn’t plan on falling in love with her.
My Cousin Rachel is a piece of classic literature written by Daphne Du Maurier and one that has remained largely untouched by the cinematic world, with the exception of a film in 1952. This is all for the best, as this is the kind of story that is much better for those viewers going in cold. It opens with Sam Claflin’s bright young Englishman recounting his fondness for the cousin who adopted him, when his parents died, Ambrose Ashley. The pair of them had a strong friendship together, more than cousins but close friends. When sickness takes Ambrose, he is forced to leave the estate and move to the warmer climate of Italy, leaving Philip alone and the heir to Ambrose’s riches, which he can only access on his 25th birthday. Aboard, Ambrose meets a woman he falls in love with, the mysterious Rachel, only described with fascination in Ambrose’s letters to Philip. Philip, jealous of Ambrose’s affections for Rachel while he remains alone in England, gains a dislike for the woman. One day, a letter comes in the mail that Ambrose has written hastily. He is mortally sick and believes that his own wife is behind it, wanting nothing but his riches from the start. Philip rushes to Italy, but is too late. Ambrose has died, but not before striking Rachel from his will. During the funeral, Philip gets to meet the infamous Rachel and make his own impressions for her, but to his surprise, he is greeted by a plain, kind-hearted, warm person. As Philip tries to figure out if this charming woman could be behind his cousin’s death, the pair grow closer. Is Philip falling in love with a beautiful older woman, or is Rachel having a second attempt at getting her hands on the Ashley fortune?
And the beauty of My Cousin Rachel is that you never quite find out. The writing is very intelligently balanced, so for every hint that Rachel may not be what she seems, there is also a very rational explanation that she is simply misunderstood. Michell faithfully adapts the source material, keeping the open-ended motivations of the mysterious title character. Some might get frustrated at the lack of a true answer, but some audience members might walk away from the cinema and finish the novel in their own mind. What was her schemes, the opening and closing narration urges, putting us in the frame of mind to draw our own conclusions from the information given. Rachel Weisz is wonderful as Rachel, balancing the performance carefully on a knife’s edge, so we are never sure if she is a poor victim or merely playing the part of victim to win over her next suitor? If anything, several beats of her acting will go unnoticed, because you are too busy watching for subtle giveaways that might allude to her hidden villainy. Sam Claflin also works wonders here, given a whiny wimp of a man to play, but adding depth that makes Philip’s insecurities grounded, even if you cannot help but wish for a stronger protagonist at times. Sadly, while the film intrigues, it never quite excites. Rachel’s schemes, if she even has one, is so slow-burning and aimed for the long game, that technically nothing but suspicion ever happens. At face value, this is a story about a girl dodging horrible rumours about her person. Michell tries his hardest to let the niggling sense of suspicion elevate the film above this fact, but it only occasionally thrills. On the whole, it is a rather dull affair, missing a powerful sucker punch of an ending that would have made the patience-inducing build-up feel more worthwhile.
Final Verdict: Beautifully acted and nicely played, but the novel just isn’t cinematic enough to justify this film’s existence.