Out this week in cinemas is My Cousin Rachel based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier and brought to the big screen by Roger Michell. My Cousin Rachel stars Sam Claflin as young Englishman Philip who is based in Cornwall. After Philip lost his family, he is raised by his guardian Ambrose (also played by Claflin), and they have a touching relationship. Several years later Philip has grown up, and Ambrose becomes ill heading to Florence for care. The two keep in contact via letters, and at one point Philip is told by Ambrose that he has met a cousin of theirs named Rachel (Rachel Weisz) and has fallen in love with her. After marrying her Ambrose’s letters to Philip begin to take a sinister turn and Philip worries for his beloved guardian. Philip heads to Florence to aid Ambrose, but when he arrives, he learns Ambrose has succumbed to his illness and died with no sign of Rachel in sight. After returning to England and beginning to come to terms with Ambrose’s death, Philip learns from his godfather Kendall (Iain Glen) that Rachel is in England and will be arriving at Ambrose’s estate.
My Cousin Rachel is a fascinating film, Claflin is brilliant as the rash and naive Philip who wishes to avenge his beloved cousin Ambrose against the supposed evils of Rachel. He has no real proof against her save for ramblings written on paper from Ambrose who was suffering from a disease that was affecting his mind and it adds this mysterious and tense air throughout the entire film as the audience is never sure where Philip and Rachel stand with each other. On the topic of Rachel, she is an impenetrable force, and Roger Michell sets up her debut to be something quite impressive. Her entrance into Ambrose’s estate is well done and leaves a lasting impression on both Philip and the audience. And this enigmatic air she exudes never dissipates, even when she dotes on Philip there is a constant sense of mistrust.
Another compelling aspect of My Cousin Rachel is the cinematography. The locations are breathtaking, from the lush countryside of England to the incredible architecture of Italy there is a distinct and beautiful design to My Cousin Rachel. The opening shot itself is a sight to behold.
My Cousin Rachel has got its issues, however, in particular, a running time that feels bloated. Clocking in at 106 minutes the story is told at a surprisingly frivolous pace. 10 minutes could be cut from this film, and the story would have a far more impactful punch. As well as the additional running time the story doesn’t focus on its central mystery and diverts to less interesting subplots throughout the course of the film. Thankfully though it is saved by a powerful climax that leaves a lasting impression.
The main draw of this film ultimately are the performances, Claflin and Weisz are brilliant together. Weisz, in particular, is a beguiling and at times quietly intimidating figure. There are certain phrases she uses with Claflin that subtly weaken and demean him, making him slowly submissive to her during the film. It’s fascinating to watch and adds yet another layer of mystery to the true identity of this woman.
My Cousin Rachel is a brilliant film filled with a haunting score, sweeping visuals and an excellent cast of characters. Check it out this weekend if you get a chance.