Film Review: My Cousin Rachel

Film Review: My Cousin Rachel

Good looks only go so far

Roger Michell’s adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel is easier to admire than like. The film is quite impressive from a technical standpoint. Mike Eley’s cinematography, Kristina Hetherington’s editing, Rael Jones’ music, and Alice Normington’s production design are all top-notch. Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin give strong performances in the lead roles. Yet, something in the execution prevents me from engaging beyond a surface level.

The opening sequences describe the relationship between Phillip (Clafin) and his cousin/foster father Ambrose. Phillip goes to live with Ambrose as a child. The two live happily in Cornwall until Ambrose develops health problems. On advice of his doctor, Ambrose goes to Florence. To Phillip’s amazement, longtime bachelor Ambrose meets and marries their cousin Rachel while in Italy.

Soon after, Phillip receives a desperate letter from Ambrose, who claims to be in fear for his life. Ambrose appears to believe Rachel is poisoning him. Phillip rushes to Florence; he finds that Ambrose is dead and Rachel gone. The only person remaining is Rainaldi (Pierfrancesco Favino), and Phillip does not trust his explanations about Rachel’s absence. Phillip blames Rachel for Ambrose’s death and vows revenge.

These plans change when Rachel (Rachel Weisz) arrives at Phillip’s home in Cornwall. He is amazed to find her charming and not at all the designing woman of local gossip. This impression is reinforced when Phillip learns Ambrose died without executing a will to provide for Rachel. (Ambrose wrote a new will but died without signing it.)

The spider/fly dynamic begins when Rachel walks into Phillip’s house. It intensifies when Phillip draws up papers stating that she receive an allowance. He falls in love for the first time in his life, and they become physically intimate. It is not long before Phillip gives her the family jewels and, in essence, signs over the rights to his estate. He falls ill, and Rachel insists he drink her noxious tisane (aka herbal tea)….

Periodically, someone like Phillip’s friend Louise (Holliday Grainger) questions Rachel’s actions or motives. Being a pro, Rachel neutralizes such attempts while making Phillip that much more dependent on her. She and writer/director Michell are less successful with the audience.

Let me emphasize, Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin are quite good in their roles. I think the real issue here is with Michell’s script and direction. Much of the problem lies with an exposition-laden third act. The appeal of this story comes from Rachel’s being enigmatic; tying up all the loose ends removes this element from the narrative. I also found much of the action to be curiously tame, even given that this film is rated PG-13. We could use a bit more spice in that tisane.

Theme: Inspired By Daphne Du Maurier

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