My Cousin Rachel
Starring Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger
Director Roger Michell’s films can be quite good or forgettable depending on what he is working with. His latest was very anticipated on my part, the adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel. Maurier is the nearly forgotten author behind two of Hitchcock’s best adaptations The Birds and Rebecca. The first trailer for My Cousin Rachel paints this film as a gothic love story with sensual thrills between Oscar winner Weisz (The Constant Gardner) and Claflin aiming at his first superior performance. The first half of the film builds toward something more epic than we are left with. Indeed, the suspense of even showing Rachel for the first time is quite a tease. Michell’s screenplay doesn’t toy with the audience enough, nor does is flirt with darker elements at the disposal of the subject matter. This brisk film feels like it’s missing about twenty minutes of story.
Young Phillip (Claflin) was adopted by his look-a-like cousin as a baby. Ambrose Ashley (Claflin) raised the child like his own. For health reasons Ambrose is sent to Florence for sunny weather where he meets Rachel (Weisz) and marries. Later succumbing to his illness, Rachel arrives at the countryside. With rage and accusations in his heart and mind, Phillip plans to make his cousin’s visit miserable, but she isn’t what he expects. He is taken by her beauty, charm and candor. Within weeks he is ready to hand over the entire estate, which will be his at the stroke of midnight on his 25th birthday. He misinterprets her flirtations and things do not turn out quite as either of them expect.
Whoever edited the trailer for the film understood what it could have been.
Phillip is just another finger on the same hand of performances Claflin (Me Before You, The Riot Club) is building a career on. This performance requires more from him emotionally than all the previous combined, but doesn’t offer much range. There are some delicious role reversals here, especially with the younger man lusting after the older woman. Weisz unfortunately plays second fiddle to Claflin as the story resides from his point of view. It’s her presence on screen that tantalizes the screen. Visually arresting shots of grassy cliffs, outdoor love making among spring flowers please the eyes. Especially fascinating are the many ways cinematographer Mike Eley (Nanny McPhee Returns) lights the darkness, if only the subject matter cared to join.
My Cousin Rachel will compete with Sofia Coppola’s remake of The Beguiled, this summer as both films tease dark gothic subject matter and fail to live up to advertisements. Both films add to welcome and surprising number of female led films this season that strive to provide audiences options among the male dominated summer blockbusters. Michell misses a real opportunity to remake Maurier’s novel into something greater, Coppola who isn’t remaking The Beguiled, but switching the point of view to that of the females. The aim for middle ground here leaves My Cousin Rachel disappointing with so many underutilized elements at the disposal of filmmakers. Whoever edited the trailer for the film understood what it could have been.
The reluctance to take this story farther, darker and explore alternative points of view, restrain its effectiveness.