My Cousin Rachel is an adaptation of the 1951 novel by the same name written by Daphne Du Maurier. It was first adapted for the big screen back in 1952 with Richard Burton and Olivia De Havilland playing the two leads. In 2017, the romantic period drama is directed by Richard Mitchell and stars Rachel Weisz as Rachel, the enchanting ‘cousin’ of Sam Claflin’s Philip.
After losing his beloved uncle Ambrose to what doctor’s identify as a fatal brain tumour, Philip comes to suspect that his late uncle’s widow Rachel played a dark hand in his demise. Upon news that Rachel is planning to visit the Ambrose estate in England, Philip is quick to draw up plans to confront her. All fired up and ready to go, it is only upon meeting Rachel that Philip is immediately disarmed by her beauty and gentle manner.
She doesn’t seem so bad at all.
OR DOES SHE???
Did she. Didn’t She.
These are the opening lines of My Cousin Rachel, over a sweeping shot of English coastal countryside where land and sea meet. It is across these clear cut binaries, that the picture keeps you constantly guessing, as the maddening question is passed from the main protagonist to the audience. The film gives you solid outcrops of fact that make you think you know what is happening, but these soon slide into the murky depths of the ocean and you are forced to question everything that’s gone before.
Rest assured, it’s a question that will keep you guessing for days to come.
It’s very much Rachel Weiz’s movie. At once a very understated performance , clearly a woman in mourning but also by the same token, a woman who is not all quite who she seems to be. Dressed all in black she instantly carries the portrait of Lady Macbeth, which instinctively raises alarm bells within our own minds. She’s out to get something, she’ll stop at nothing to obtain it. A classic femme fatale.
She is constantly experimenting with exotic tea based concotions, which from the get go, you just know that Philip should not be drinking. The taste is supposed to be bad, sickness seems to be a sidaffect, but maybe she’s just not mastered the art of making tea just yet? She keeps the company of this grinning Italian lawyer who immediatly carries the air of someone you shouldn’t trust. They talk together in Italian, frantically. We do not know what she is saying. But perhaps he is just a good friend.
We already had another Lady Macbeth earlier this year who fit the guise of the archetype more readily, though made all the more sympathetic because of her youthfulness. Her turn to the dark side is born out of stifling boredom and it’s a downfall that quickly gets out of hand, beyond her control. Rachel on the other hand is older, a woman of the world, fluent in different languages – she clearly has her own agenda. With every costume change you are constantly judging her under a new light.
Suffice it to say, she gets into your head, as she does with Philip – our main protagonist.
As Philip Ambrose, Sam Claflin’s character acts as the narrator. We see the story through his eyes. From the beginning it becomes clear that he’s slightly strange himself, oblivious to the needs of the women immediately around him, no real plan in life, no profession to master, just a general moodiness with the status quo and the path the world expects him to walk down.
Whilst we may question Rachel’s motives, as he does, as we are led to. Through his youthful naivety he basically becomes something of an untrustworthy narrator. We can see where he is going wrong and as his passion for Rachel bounds out of control. We turn to the supporting cast, such as Iain Glenn’s voice of reason as the family lawyer, or his daughter who is in love with Philip to begin with. Clearly the right choice in terms of marriable woman, as the age dictates.
But then Rachel Weiz just has this captivating presence. There’s a gothic allure we must be wary of, an instinctive threat detection that is always in danger of been thrown to the wayside. Whether Rachel is or isn’t who she seems. Something bad is going to happen by going down this path where passion and truth become blurred together and largely incomprehensible.
My Cousin Rachel is a film that very deliberately gets under your skin. It’s language is clear period romance, sweeping shots of the rustic British coast, breathless voicing of affections by candlelight, but it plays out like a paranoid thriller that will keep you questioning for days after.