My Cousin Rachel: Film Review
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger
Director: Roger Michell
Revelling in its Gothic trappings and ambiguities till the end, the latest adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's 1951 novel benefits greatly from the presence of Weisz as its lead.
Sam 'Hunger Games' Claflin plays the puppy dog orphan Phillip who suspects his cousin Rachel (a beguiling Weisz) poisoned his adopted father abroad. Further fuelled by notes discovered from him, Phillip is determined to bring her down when she moves to England and his estate.
But when Rachel arrives, she appears to have everyone in her thrall, and Phillip ultimately falls for her too, leading him to rash decisions about his estate...
While Phillip's actions seem indecipherable at best given how quickly he turns heel on his strength of belief, most of My Cousin Rachel works well as an evocative mystery.
That's a despite a condensed history at the start that's bundled up in expository voiceover and the rather workmanlike way the film's opening sections are unspooled.
Thankfully Weisz's powerful yet restrained take on the Black Widow / femme fatale / power play is one that keeps you intrigued and intoxicated throughout. Using her wiles but also underplaying means there's a strong degree of ambiguity throughout and coupled with Michell's close up solo shots of the character's faces, the back-and-forth of the narrative and the puzzle grows ever more compelling as the film goes on.
Claflin plays the innocent boy-coming-of-age to a tee, though his naivete and character's flip-flop attitude are perhaps the film's down points given how rapidly he folds. He gives good wounded puppy too in certain points and it's hard not to side with him for large portions of the film; though perhaps this is My Cousin Rachel's strength.
Underneath the period detail, the sweeping countryside shots, a stoic Iain Glen as executor of the estate and beneath the maudlin melancholia of how the jealousy and suspicion tale plays out, there's a lot that actually sucks you in to its rich trappings. The mystery is well sustained and even the ending plays fast and loose with expectations of this take on female sexuality and coming-of-age.
A lo-key prestige picture it may be, but thanks in large to Weisz's controlled turn as Rachel, My Cousin Rachel is beguiling cinema at its absolute best. While you may find the main reason for Phillip's headlong change of attitude utterly bewildering, thanks to both Claflin and Weisz, this subtle psychological tale is as timeless as they come.