Based upon Daphne du Maurier's classical lit masterpiece, My Cousin Rachel soars on the strength of yet another masterful performance from Rachel Weisz as Rachel, who falls under the suspicion of Philip (Sam Claflin) when her husband, and Philip's former guardian, passes away with Philip suspecting that Rachel has committed some dastardly deed based on letters he'd received from the guardian suggesting as much.
Were the letters real? Were the letters accurate? Was the man really, truly just ill?
You will find yourself watching My Cousin Rachel believing it to be yet another Brit morality tale.
There's more going on.
There's more going on than the conflicts pushed to the forefront over the remaining estate. There's more going on than simply a "Did she?" or "Didn't she?" There's more going on than the doubt that begins to rise in Philip's mind once he comes face-to-face with Rachel, an encounter that begins to hint at the layers of complexity that exist between Rachel and Philip borne out of their vast differences in age and life experience.
Indeed, there's always much more and yet, in a way, there's very little more than what you see on the screen. This is the brilliance of Weisz's performance, a performance that is completely and utterly transparent yet always played within the shadow. My Cousin Rachel was first brought to the big screen some 60 years ago with Olivia de Havilland in the title role, yet the film looks and feels as timeless as ever with universal themes that feel particularly relevant in today's political and cultural climates. If you are unfamiliar with Du Maurier's writing, she possessed brilliant narrative skills that translate, at least with disciplined filmmakers, quite nicely to the big screen with Hitchcock himself having filmed three of her novels including "The Birds," "Jamaica Inn," and the remarkable "Rebecca." This type of writing is absolutely perfect for director Roger Michell, whose past films include Persuasion, arguably one of the best Austen adaptations, along with Notting Hill, Changing Lanes and others.
My Cousin Rachel is yet another stellar effort for Michell, though he owes much of that to Weisz for a performance that possesses all the necessary classic romanticism while radiating constant intelligence and maturity that lays bare that unbridgeable chasm between Rachel and Philip. As Philip, Sam Claflin captures that chasm beautifully along with his much younger man's frenzied attempts to bridge it or understand or somehow comprehend a world in which he is immeasurably out of his league. Claflin is quite good here, though one can't quite say he escapes the shadow of Richard Burton, whose feature film debut as Philip scored an Oscar nomination.
D.P. Mike Eley's lensing manages to be both enthralling yet disciplined, while Alice Normington's production design works alongside Dinah Collin's costuming to create classic visuals that are also emotionally compelling.
My Cousin Rachel is practically a must see for any fan of Du Maurier's lit adaptations, though there are far many more reasons to see it just that. With 3-D imagery and techno-wizardry dominating the cinematic landscape, My Cousin Rachel is an adult romantic thriller with a captivating story, interesting characters and yet another marvelous performance from the seemingly always dependable Rachel Weisz. Opening in my hometown of Indy this weekend at the Landmark Keystone Art Cinema, My Cousin Rachel is currently on an indie/arthouse run with Fox Searchlight.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic