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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "My Cousin Rachel" long on style, melodrama, ambiguity

Jun 09, 2017 02:43AM ● By Dan Metcalf

Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin in My Cousin Rachel - © 2017 Fox Searchlight.

My Cousin Rachel (Fox Searchlight)

Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and brief strong language.

Starring Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger, Pierfrancesco Favino, Andrew Knott, Poppy Lee Friar, Katherine Pearce, Simon Russell Beale, Tristram Davies, Andrew Havill, Vicki Pepperdine, Bobby Scott Freeman, Harrie Hayes.

Written and directed by Roger Michell, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier.



Costume dramas can be misleading. On the one hand, they look like they should be worthy of acclaim (because, after all, they went to all that trouble to create intricate, authentic-looking period clothing) while on the other hand; English accents and horse-drawn buggies are no substitute for a good story. Also, just because a novel was written decades ago doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a “classic,” and may be simply “old.” My Cousin Rachel is a novel written by Daphne du Maurier and published in 1951, which may not give it “classic” status, but old enough to separate it from modern pulp. A contemporary film adaptation My Cousin Rachel comes to theaters this week.

Set in the 1800s, Sam Claflin stars as Phillip, an orphan raised by his adult cousin Ambrose a wealthy estate owner, who spends his summers in Italy to convalesce from a chronic illness. During one of his stays in Italy, Ambrose meets a distant cousin named Rachel (Rachel Weisz) and immediately falls in love and marries her, writing about his new affair to Philip. Soon, Ambrose’s letters take a dark turn as he suspects that Rachel and an Italian named Rainaldi (Pierfrancesco Favino) are plotting against him, begging Phillip to come and rescue him. Phillip obliges and travels to the Italian villa, only to discover that Ambrose has died and Rachel has vanished. As Ambrose’s heir, Phillip returns home to England and is soon visited by Rachel, who he intends to treat as a villainous opportunist and perhaps his cousin’s killer. Rachel immediately charms Phillip, who falls in love with her, despite warnings of his godfather Nick (Iain Glen) and Nick’s daughter Louise (Holliday Grainger), who has affections of her own for the young man. Phillip learns that Ambrose left Rachel an unsigned will, and decides to cede all of his cousin’s estate to her, contemplating that she feels the same about him. On his 25th birthday, Phillip announces his intentions to marry Rachel, who refuses him in front of all his friends and family. Desperate to have her, Phillip goes to Rachel’s quarters, where they have an intimate encounter. Phillip is again discouraged as Rachel rebuffs his physical advances the next day and distances herself from him. Phillip becomes ill after drinking a special herbal tea prepared by Rachel and the suspicions increase. Phillip finds an ally in Louise, who helps him look for clues to Rachel’s evil tendencies. Just when Phillip learns Rachel may not be evil, tragedy strikes, leaving more questions than answers as to Rachel’s intentions.

My Cousin Rachel is high on melodrama and style, with no shortage of ambiguity. It might seem that there are twisted gender roles at play, but it often seems like just another “black widow” cliché. Weisz shines above the rest of the cast, and her performance is worth seeing, while Claflin gives a convincing performance as a passionate, impulsive and gullible leading character that is not easy to sympathize with.

Du Maurier’s story doesn’t seem to have any important or deep observations about human nature and relationships, other than “you can’t trust anyone,” rendering My Cousin Rachel a little less than “classic,” yet mildly entertaining.     

My Cousin Rachel Trailer