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New Release Review - MY COUSIN RACHEL

my cousin rachel review
A society widow is suspected of killing her late husband.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Roger Michell

Starring: Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger

my cousin rachel poster


The work of the British writer Daphne du Maurier has given us its share of memorable screen adaptations. Hitchcock turned to her writings three times, twice with great results (Rebecca and The Birds; let's not mention Jamaica Inn), while Nicolas Roeg turned a du Maurier short story into the disturbing supernatural drama Don't Look Now. In 1952 Henry Koster gave us a classy adaptation of her novel My Cousin Rachel, starring Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland, and now Roger Michell (Le Weekend) takes a crack at the same book.

my cousin rachel

Rachel Weisz plays her titular namesake in this version. She's the beautiful widow of Ambrose, the Englishman who ran into her in Italy and subsequently took her as his wife. Having received a series of increasingly disturbed letters from Ambrose, his young cousin, Philip (Sam Claflin), becomes convinced that Rachel is somehow responsible for his death. Having initially planned avenging his cousin, Philip soon changes his mind when he lays eyes on Rachel, falling head over heels for her and dismissing his prior suspicions. But is she as innocent as he now believes?

A slew of recent movies have revitalised the British costume drama. Movies like Love & Friendship, Mr Turner, Far From the Madding Crowd and Lady Macbeth have injected new life into that most staid of genres. Essentially an erotic thriller in period garb, My Cousin Rachel should have continued this trend, but in the hands of Michell, who also serves as screenwriter here, it's neither erotic nor thrilling, a bloodless, sexless bore of a film.

my cousin rachel

The period in question is baffling to begin with. Initially, the production and costume design suggests we're dealing with the middle of the nineteenth century at the latest, but early on a character closes a window to drown out the noise of a passing plane; a bizarre anomaly, as cars and telephones (two items that would have made the plot a lot shorter) are nowhere to be seen.

My Cousin Rachel is a movie that believes its antagonist is its protagonist, and vice versa. Philip is a wretch, a bastion of male entitlement who believes Rachel should bow to his desire. The title character is far more sympathetic, unless you're stuck in the dark ages and believe women shouldn't sleep around, which seems to be the mentality required to embrace the film's mystery aspects. As to her irresistible appeal however, the film relies far too heavily on Weisz's physical charms, offering no other evidence as to why Philip might become so enthralled with her.

my cousin rachel

The mystery itself is a non-starter, as Michell never gives us any clues as to the true nature of Rachel. We see everything through Philip's eyes, which means suspense is entirely absent. How much more effective this film might have been if Michell had taken the Hitchcockian approach and kept us one step ahead of its questionable hero. As it is, My Cousin Rachel is a film that asks its audience to follow a trail of crumbs, but when we eventually reach the main course, we've long lost our appetite.

My Cousin Rachel is in UK/ROI cinemas now. Read our review.



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