With the current success and popularity of action flicks, My Cousin Rachel is a nice depart from the constant onslaught of blockbuster giants going head to head at the box office as they compete for fans money and attention with action packed sequences littered with a litany of juvenile jokes and other filler content alongside sometimes poorly conceived plots.
Based on the novel written by British author Daphne du Maurier, this film was first adapted in 1952 by Henry Koster much to the dissatisfaction of Maurier who felt the film was unfaithful to her original work. Although Maurier has since passed, many critics find director Roger Michell’s new adaptation more in nature with the tale, allowing some of Maurier’s more gothic undertones to come to life in his film. My Cousin Rachel centers on Phillip who has just finished college and is set to inherit his cousin Ambrose’s entire estate as the sole heir to his surrogate father’s wealth.
Right from the start of the film in the the opening sequence – a series of unfocused, quick takes of Philip’s childhood – Michell sets the somber tone complimented by the gothic beauty of Phillip’s poorly kept yet finely furnished manor out in Cornwall countryside where rolling green plains stretch as far as the eye can see before breaking off into a secluded beach. Here, Philip manages the property and house servants in Ambrose’s stead.
All things appear to be well with Ambrose, who resettled to Italy after suffering a bout of illness and is now happily married to their cousin, a mysterious woman named Rachel with an endless trail of rumors behind her. Ambrose’s cheerful letters become sinister when he sends a letter claiming Rachel watches him night and day and has been feeding him a mysterious brew that has made him ill. Phillip receives one last letter, a plea of help from Ambrose where he calls Rachel his “torment” before dying shortly after.
Embittered by his uncle’s suffering, Philip pledges to exact revenge against Rachel. Raised in the presence of men his whole life, Philip is wholly unprepared for the allure of Rachel that attracts him like a bee draw to honey and immediately dissolves his hate for his cousin when he first lays eyes on her. A maternal attachment develops between the two that quickly escalates into lust as Philip falls more and more under her charm.
Phillip’s incestuous infatuation with his cousin begins to splinter Phillip’s relationship with his guardian and close friend Louise as he does everything possible to please Rachel, ignoring advice from his guardian and friends who have heard concerning allegations about Rachel.
Sam Claflin delivered an amazing performance, transforming from a well-mannered gentleman into an unhinged lover before Philip succumbs to paranoia. The trailer admittedly paints this film a tad more sinister than what it turned out to be; a suspenseful melodrama of a man losing his mind over a woman he knew nothing about. Sure, you can blame Rachel for seemingly leading Philip on and “wooing” him out of his riches but I think Philip should share equal blame for his obtrusiveness in thinking he could make Rachel love him whether or not you believe she is truly devious.
Ultimately, what makes this film truly intriguing is the way it ambiguously toes the line constantly between portraying Rachel as a misunderstood innocent widow or a fortune-hunting seductress who has turned her eyes to Philip after being shafted of her rightful fortune. Rachel Weisz weaves beautifully between portraying a grieving widow grateful for her cousin’s generosity to a bold, independent woman unabashed of the way she may be viewed by society and not ashamed to take what she deserves. Despite hints of Rachel possessing arcane powers, her powers simply lie in her masterful utilization of her femininity and charm that endears people to her.
The final act is by far the most compelling bit of this twisted yet seductive romance as Michell ultimately ends the film on an inconclusive note that creates more questions rather than answers and Rachel’s true motives remain shrouded in mystery best interpreted by whoever you chose to believe.
This review was published on Sneak Peek’s Tumblr.