Film Review: My Cousin Rachel

My Cousin Rachel a darkly handsome effort, and well worth it for the performance of Rachel Weisz as Rachel, even if the central character is actually Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin), who’s such a fool that you almost delight in his potential comeuppance. Almost.

The novels of London-born author Daphne Du Maurier (1907 – 1989) are a fairly grim lot, which is surely why Alfred Hitchcock kept coming back to them (see his Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and The Birds), and here writer, producer and director Roger Michell films her 1951 costume drama (also swoonily produced in 1952 with Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton).

Philip was an orphan on the coast of Cornwall, raised by his kindly and rich cousin Ambrose, and a slightly odd element is introduced immediately here, as the adult Philip is seen to be so devoted to Ambrose that he knows nothing about women – and perhaps doesn’t want to. The only female he has spent any time with is Louise (Holliday Grainger looking like Miranda Richardson), the daughter of his godfather Nick Kendall (Iain Glen), and she almost laughs at his naïvete.

When Ambrose takes ill and must relocate to the warmth of Florence, Philip is anguished, and he grows further and further upset as he hears of how Ambrose has met and married his cousin Rachel and that his condition is worsening. When Philip eventually rushes off to Florence, he learns that Ambrose has died of a brain tumour, and in his anguish, he becomes convinced that Rachel murdered him and is after his money, provoking much Claflin arrogance and angst (quite unlike his more dashing roles in Their Finest and some Hunger Games entries).

When Rachel turns up at the house, he’s ready to give her the third degree, but then he finds that she’s beautiful and full of wit and life. He’s increasingly besotted with her, which is hardly surprising as Weisz is glowing throughout. Driven to extravagant heights to impress her, he eventually “comes of age” and starts to properly learn a thing or two about women – or at least her.

With Weisz’s Rachel a more complex and sympathetic figure than some of du Maurier’s characters (like Gothic housekeeper Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca), this is strongly acted by the whole cast, but really all about Weisz, who’s always strong (see also the recent The Light Between Oceans and Denial) but here proves this one’s heart and soul. She might be a murderess but, well, you can’t have everything.

Rated M. My Cousin Rachel is in cinemas now

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