My Cousin Rachel – Film Review by Pat V.
Director: Roger Michell
Writers: Daphne Du Maurier (novel), Roger Michell (adaptation)
Stars: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glen
Director Roger Michell’s remake of Daphne du Maurier’s tale of suspicion and jealousy goes a long way in capturing the shifting emotions and unsettling atmosphere of the novel. Du Maurier, probably best known among cinema goers for the classic 1940 version of Rebecca, with an unforgettable performance from Laurence Olivier, has had many of her novels and stories adapted for the screen, including the eerie Don’t Look Now and Hitchcock’s The Birds.
Philip (Sam Claflin), the hero of My Cousin Rachel, is orphaned as a child and grows up on a country estate in Cornwall with his uncle, Ambrose. When Ambrose becomes ill, it is recommended that he travel to Italy for his health and the estate is left in the care of Philip, now in his twenties. As he recovers, letters arrive from Ambrose telling of a friend he has met in Italy and later of his love and marriage with the mysterious Rachel. When letters of a more alarming nature arrive where Ambrose seems distressed and convinced that he is being poisoned, Philip decides to go to Italy to help his uncle.
On his arrival he finds that Ambrose has died. Returning to England he discovers that he is sole heir to his uncle’s estate. He is disconcerted to hear that Rachel plans to come and visit him and is determined to confront her about his suspicions that she had colluded in his uncle’s death. When he meets her, however, heart rules head when he realises that she is not at all what he had imagined. He is torn between desire and distrust as an intense relationship develops between them, escalating to a dramatic climax.
As the enigmatic Rachel of the title, Rachel Weisz is perfect. She is composed and inscrutable, and like Philip, the viewers are drawn between suspicion and reassurance. Is she what she seems? Were Ambrose’s letters just symptoms of his illness or did they contain some truth? Mitchell’s film, told through Philip’s eyes, constantly causes us to question our perceptions about the more experienced Rachel, rumoured to be a “woman of limitless appetites”, and try to unweave the truth from the tangled web presented.
There is a lot to admire in My Cousin Rachel. Though set in the same period, it is not in the same class as the exquisitely filmed Lady Macbeth, seen recently on our screens. It tells its story well with good performances all round but does not have a lot that’s new to say. It is hard to understand why the director felt the need to tack on the odd ending, not in du Maurier’s novel and which adds nothing to the story. A pleasant evening’s entertainment but not one that will be memorable.