Written and directed by Roger Michell, My Cousin Rachel is a psychological drama and period piece. Does the film’s mystery aspect keep the audience engaged throughout or put them to sleep?
Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, the story focuses on Philip (Sam Claflin), a young man raised by his cousin Ambrose from a young age. Ambrose falls ill and moves from England to Italy on doctor’s orders. While there, he meets and marries Rachel (Rachel Weisz). However, in his later letters to Philip, Ambrose claims that Rachel is trying to kill him. Philip goes to Italy to Ambrose’s aid, but he finds that his cousin has died. He is told Ambrose died of a brain tumor, but the damning letters stick in his mind. When Rachel comes to Ambrose’s estate in England, Philip treats her with suspicion. However, he soon succumbs to her charms and finds himself obsessed with her, ignoring the advice of Ambrose’ executor, Nick (Iain Glen) and his daughter, Louise (Holliday Grainger). The question persists throughout the film, did Rachel kill Ambrose or did he die the way the doctors say he died?
The previous adaptation of My Cousin Rachel (1952) was nominated for several Academy Awards. Pretty much the only things this version of the story might be nominated for are Best Costuming and Rachel Weisz’ performance. She is spectacular in this film, but admittedly, I would watch her read the phone book. She is such a talented actress and that talent is on full display in My Cousin Rachel. Michell’s command of the period elements of the film is strong, but there were times when his shot composition was a little off. I enjoyed the mystery aspect of the film, but the film definitely seesaws between whether Rachel is a black widow or simply an independent woman in a time when independent women were frowned upon and shunned. So, that keeps the film compelling, but the thing that keeps tripping up the story is the character of Philip. As portrayed by Claflin, Philip is a whiny jerk. While a major aspect of the film is the fear that Philip might be losing his mind, some of the things he does throughout the film become annoying. He just makes a lot of dumb decisions whether out of foolish love or just plain old stupidity. Pro tip: when you fear that your cousin’s widow may have killed him, maybe don’t accept everything she tells you or gives you at face value. Again, I know it’s all part of the story, but I felt that Claflin could have toned down his performance a bit. I felt like he went a little over the top repeatedly.
In addition to Weisz, Glen and Grainger also give nice performances. Glen is good in most everything he appears in and Grainger was another great independent woman. I loved her scenes with Claflin as she basically told him he was an idiot throughout. She told it like it was.
Overall, My Cousin Rachel is a decent psychological drama powered by a great performance by Rachel Weisz, but with Claflin’s Philip as the point of view character, the film becomes exasperating as it rolls toward its conclusion.