Mark Reviews Movies

My Cousin Rachel


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Roger Michell

Cast: Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger, Pierfrancesco Favino

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some sexuality and brief strong language)

Running Time: 1:46

Release Date: 6/9/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 8, 2017

"I'm 25," our protagonist proclaims. "I can do whatever I want!" These sound like famous last words, and in a way, they are for My Cousin Rachel, the latest adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's novel of the same name. Those words pretty much mark the point at which the movie transforms from a discomforting psychological study of sheltered and arrested development into a sometimes laughable mystery in which our hero/potential victim isn't bright enough to see what's right in front of him.

To be fair to Philip (Sam Claflin), the orphaned boy who becomes the heir to a fine estate under questionable circumstances, he has had it rough. He was raised by his cousin in a home where no women were allowed—save, Philip narrates without any awareness, for the dogs of the estate. He left school early to return home, because he couldn't bring himself to care about education or the city. Philip is not resigned to live the rest of his life in the house where he was raised. He is happy to do so.

The cousin falls ill, and his doctor suggests some sun to aid his recovery. With his guardian in Florence, Philip finds himself quite alone. There is no solace in the workers in his cousin's employ, and there is only little comfort in the occasional presence of his godfather Nick (Iain Glen). Nick's daughter Louise (Holliday Grainger) falls somewhere in between. She is, after all, a woman, and Philip is either too naïve to recognize her not-too-subtle hints of potential marriage or too dismissive of the sex to entertain those suggestions in any way.

For his part, the cousin, an until-now confirmed bachelor, has met a woman—a cousin, as it happens. He has fallen in love with her. The letters home become less frequent, because the woman, now his wife, dissuades him from writing them. He becomes ill again, and in small writing on the envelope announcing this fact are some words of warning about the wife and an urgent message to Philip: "Come quickly."

By the time Philip arrives, the cousin is dead—a brain tumor that Rainaldi (Pierfrancesco Favino), a friend of the cousin's wife, says affected his behavior. Philip is quick to assume a conspiracy, orchestrated by his cousin's wife—his own cousin, too—to inherit the estate. He will seek revenge against her.

That is until she comes to the estate to meet him. She immediately lowers his defenses and assuages his suspicions.

She is Rachel, and to be fairer to Philip, she is played by Rachel Weisz. Weisz's performance is key to the movie's early scenes of Philip's enchantment with Rachel, which is a strange combination of a son seeking approval from his mother and a suitor playing for the affections of a potential lover.

Weisz's performance is a complicated blending of those roles in Philip's mind. She is a proud, independently minded woman, whom the local men find to be charming company for conversation and the local women look up to with a certain degree of awe. In private, though, she is uncertain of her role on the estate and in her life as a widow. She confides in Philip in a manner that suggests family, not romance. Philip can't tell the difference in his own mind, which might be why he gives her his mother's necklace as a gift. She seems mixed on the subject, too, offering him a kiss on the lips from her bed before telling him, in a very motherly voice, that he should get himself to bed.

To be fairest to Philip, the confusion is an intentional component of director Roger Michell's screenplay, because there is more to Rachel than Philip or anyone else suspects. The question is which aspect of her is "more" than those suspicions. Is she a woman in over her head with a young man of muddled affections, unsure of how to proceed with him? Is she, as Philip first assumed, a money-grubbing leech who is trying to gain and maintain a personal fortune from a string of men who fall victim to her charms?

Something doesn't work here. It feels as if it's the combination of Philip's extreme gullibility and the obviousness with which Michell asserts the possibility that Rachel may be playing a game with Philip's emotions—and possibly his life. We can believe and forgive Philip in his innocence about Rachel in the movie's early sections. There comes a point (possibly around the time when Michell's camera holds a keen look from a threatening angle at Rachel preparing a cup of herbal tea), though, when our own suspicions of Rachel's motives and behavior, which Michell repeatedly eggs on, become too overwhelming.

The question of Rachel's guilt or innocence is the central point here, but the My Cousin Rachel overplays things in one direction, making the entirety of Philip's character feel like a way of artificially keeping the mystery alive. There's a neat trick that Michell pulls off in the movie's final moments to turn the question into an answer, and if the rest of the movie had been as legitimately mysterious, that conclusion might have made an impact.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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