Paul Mendoza

“Rachel, my torment.”

Daphne Du Maurier’s 1951 novel My Cousin Rachel was immediately made into a film in 1952 starring Richard Burton in his first American film and Olivia De Havilland as Rachel. Burton nabbed his first Oscar nomination and the film was well received. Du Maurier felt De Havilland was miscast. I have to admit, I’ve never seen this film so I couldn’t say. But I’ve seen Rebecca (1940) and The Birds (1963) both directed by Alfred Hitchcock and Don’t Look Now (1973) directed by Nicholas Roeg, all based on novels or short stories written by Du Maurier and I see a theme. All these stories are psychological thrillers filled with lovers who harbor suspicions about each other. Often, it’s the female character that is suspect of being the harbinger of ill tidings.

In this newest version of My Cousin Rachel, the film is book ended by the voice over of young Phillip (Sam Claflin), “Did she? Didn’t she? Who was to blame?”.
Phillip’s parents died when he was a young boy. His cousin Ambrose, raised him as his own. He went off to college but he didn’t like school or the city. He liked being back home on the farm he grew up on. When Ambrose becomes ill his doctors advise a warmer climate and so he goes off to Italy. In Italy he meets a woman, Rachel (Rachel Weisz) and they become involved. Ambrose writes Phillip often and at first all seems well but the letters take a dark turn and Phillip fears Ambrose may be in danger. He leaves for Italy but he arrives too late. Ambrose has died. Phillip blames Rachel immediately without any proof of wrong doing and when she comes to stay with Phillip he initially plans to confront her. But then he sees her. She’s beautiful and charming. He falls under her spell as one would imagine Ambrose did. But he’s young and foolish and soon he is making decisions that his guardian, Mr. Kendall (Iain Glen, Game Of Thrones) and Kendall’s daughter, Louise (Holliday Grainger) are questioning.

The film is an interesting thriller. Phillip is not a very likeable character. He comes off as a snot nosed brat. There were no women in the house when he was growing up so he’s awkward when Rachel comes to stay with him and naturally, he would become enamored of her. He acts so foolishly though I got angry. But of course, that’s the point of the story. All those around him keep warning him but he pays no heed. He’s in love. Love has a way of impairing one’s judgment. Rachel is a mystery. Is she a jezebel or did she really love Ambrose? Is she after the farm and the money or just a fair deal as his widow?

The performances are good. Rachel Weisz especially has to walk the tightrope and you will discuss afterward what her intentions were at each step. Her decisions were also questionable. It’s lovely looking film. I especially enjoyed the Christmas celebration in the barn. I turned to my friend in the theater and said, “Let’s do THAT this Christmas!” Of course, where to get a barn in Brooklyn? It just looked like fun.

It’s a somber film that will irritate you but challenge you. It’s not as exciting a thriller as one would hope but it’s smart and well structured and Weisz’ performance is worth seeing. Directed and adapted by Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Venus).