By: Jessica Goddard
Directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Changing Lanes), My Cousin Rachel is a mysterious, ambiguous, and appropriately moody adaption of the 1951 Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name.
Set in 19th century Cornwall, the narrative surrounds Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin) who is heartbroken to learn that his older cousin and father figure Ambrose (also Sam Claflin) has passed away overseas shortly (and suspiciously) after marrying their mutual foreign cousin Rachel. Rachel Weisz is terrific as the recently widowed Cousin Rachel, who comes to visit Philip and the Ashley estate. Philip, initially convinced Rachel must have found a way to undetectably poison Ambrose, actually finds himself quite taken with Rachel – the story takes off from there.
Sam Claflin is probably too old to be playing a 24-year-old, but he handles the material with poise. Ideally it seems the age difference between the older, guarded Rachel and the innocent, lovesick Philip should be apparent, but aesthetically nothing really looks amiss when they’re together. It’s easy to understand why Philip obsessively pines for Rachel – she’s unexpectedly kind, gentle, and generous of spirit, though also withdrawn and reluctant. It’s harder to appreciate what Rachel might be seeing in Philip. He’s immature, naïve, kind of petulant, and drops his guard pathetically early.
The mystery at the heart of the story falls flat, but it’s hard to tell whether that’s because of problems with the source material or whether the writers overplay their hand in trying to set up clues and twists throughout the film. By the end, you’re left more or less confused, rather than genuinely engrossed in wondering whether Rachel is this scheming seductress who’s been after the Ashley family estate all along. It’s a weakness of the script that if you take a certain position on this question, there are a lot of moments that won’t make sense in retrospect.
Full disclosure: the “answer” to the mystery felt entirely obvious to me, but one of the neat things about this movie is its potential to inspire debate and produce contrasting interpretations.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod