Review: My Cousin Rachel
(M) Sam Clafin, Rachel Weisz, Iain Glen
The name Daphne Du Maurier may not be familiar to modern audiences, but she was the author responsible for many cinematic classics. Besides penning My Cousin Rachel, she was the brilliantly twisted mind behind Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and The Birds. She is one of the most celebrated English authors of the 20th century and is being reintroduced to a new generation of period mystery fans. It is understandable why director Roger Michell (Hyde Park on the Hudson) would chose to remake the 1952 Henry Koster film. With Rachel Weisz (A Light Between Oceans) playing the enigmatic femme fatale, the story and her character is too tantalizing for any director to pass up.
Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin) has been raised by his uncle Ambrose Ashley since the death of his parents at a young age. Over the years Ambrose’s illness prompts a needed retreat to the coastal Italy while Philip remains in the English countryside. When Philip hears of the suspicious circumstances of his mentor’s death, he is determined to prove Ambrose’s widow Rachel (Weisz) was behind his mentor’s demise. When Rachel arrives at the doorstep of young Philip, his initial reaction is to enact his own version of revenge. It all takes a turn as he is taken aback by her beauty and her enticing demeanour. Instead of revenge Philip makes the decision to pursue her, but is this the best thing for his mental and physical health?
This film is a fascinating combination of genres and may satisfy the appetites of the Jane Austin crowd, as well as those who love a good murder/mystery. For fans of the rolling countryside and contemplative dialogue, Du Maurier’s writing style provides all of the trappings that are expected in the drama, romance and tension of this era. The beautifully twisted relationships and the world of the country gentleman is a marvellous stage for the performances of Weisz and Claflin. The Academy Award winning actress shows her ability to take on any role and make it her own. Claflin goes from strength to strength, from his excellent performance in Their Finest to this period piece; he is proving to be more than a pretty face. Reminiscent of the scenario in Far from the Madding Crowd, where a seemingly strong character gets seduced into unbelievable circumstances that affect everyone within their relational orbit, Du Maurier’s version provides the passion with mysterious undertones that add a slight tension to the whole story.
The curious death of Ambrose Ashley provides the catalyst for another level of dramatic strain. Outside of the relational hurdles throughout the journey, this linchpin element is what will ensure audiences will be continually uneasy from the beginning to the end. Claflin’s haunting narration sets the tone for the film and delivers enough concern for the wellbeing of his character to hold onto the end. Weisz proves to strike the balance between seductress and nobility that makes it difficult to determine her true intentions. This continual tension gives a potentially dull script the energy that is needed to keep the hearts of the audience throughout the journey. Between the performances of the central characters and well-crafted storyline, My Cousin Rachel is a disturbingly fascinating gem that proves why this novel has stood the test of time.