“My Cousin Rachel” is directed by Roger Michell and stars Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin. It is the film adaptation of the 1951 novel by Daphne du Maurier of the same title.
The story follows a young Englishman named Philip who learns he will be inheriting the estate of his dead guardian Ambrose Ashley. Ambrose had a beautiful wife that Philip suspects may have been connected to Ambrose’s death. But when Philip meets his cousin Rachel and becomes lured under her charm, it isn’t long before he falls for her. Clouding his judgement as he decides to leave his inheritance to her.
Admittedly I knew nothing of this film before a week ago, but it did look interesting and like a potentially compelling time-period drama with doses of suspense. “My Cousin Rachel” from all accounts seems to be a beloved book after all these years and this was the first film-adaptation of it since 1952. Also, Rachel Weisz is a great actress, and from the trailer looked to be well casted in the role of a charming woman with many hidden layers. So, I was interested in seeing how this story would play out.
But after watching, and without having read the novel, I can feel safe in saying this script did not do the source material justice. It was certainly a well-crafted film. The dialogue for the most part felt natural to the time-period and region. The wardrobes and set-designs all looked fantastic as you could see the attention to detail in that element was a focal point. The backdrops and locations were all very well selected and do effectively immerse you into the stories settings.
The performances themselves were also more than serviceable. Weisz feels natural in her role and with her subtle energy you can truly buy her as the character she is portraying. Weisz feels and conveys that proper persona in a very effective way but with her expressions and mannerisms she could make an emotional shift on a dime. Something that added a lot of intrigue to her presence in this story.
Sam Claflin was great as well with his portrayal of the young, and heavily naive Philip. You can feel the torment and joy that Rachel casts on him throughout this story and you can sympathize with him, to an extent. But Claflin conveys these emotional swings with a smooth delivery and a solid realism to connect you with his character to a certain level.
Weisz and Claflin also had a strong chemistry with one another. You can always sense Weisz’ character was posturing but with their interactions and the warm connection between them you can never be too sure of her intentions. They felt very natural in their scenes together and they sell both the love angle of their dynamic, as well as the turbulent one with enough of an impact.
Unfortunately, the positives I have with this one for the most part end there. As good as Weisz and Claflin were in their performances, I still felt they could have created my much deeper and impactful characters had the material let them do so. Weisz was enjoyable as the mysterious Rachel, but Weisz felt like she was being restrained. She felt like she could have done so much more with this character had the script allowed her to.
From the synopsis, I was expecting to see the story of a woman’s manipulation and deceit. But this was really nothing more than the story of a gullible man. I feel the way this story plays out doesn’t portray the character of Rachel properly, and her cunning charm was overshadowed by the character of Philip’s unrealistic puppy love. Sure, love can spring on a dime. Like a light switch you can know in an instant that someone is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. But this movie sets up a man curious to a woman’s involvement in his guardian’s death, and when he gets there he does a complete flip and is suddenly in love.
I guess this can happen. But to me the melodramatic feel of it, and the lack of substance to convey why he had this turn of feelings, completely pulled me out of the movie. The passion and energy between these two characters was not developed well at all in the writing and while Weisz and Claflin make the most out of it, they don’t cover up the fact this screenplay was lacking depth.
Once the connection to these characters is lost, the pace slows dramatically as this turned out to be all drama and no suspense. Instead of being the story of a woman commanding a situation silently as she imposes her manipulation, turned out to be watching a love sick young man stumble after a woman, mostly from his own misguided heart and nothing more than the appearance of Rachel, not her manipulation.
Overall this was a bit of a letdown. Despite some strong visual appeal, and crisp, polished direction from Roger Michell, this was a boring movie. People who love time-period, semi-love stories may find some interest in it, but you will certainly see the flaws as well if you have seen many other films in the genre.