My Cousin Rachel is Roger Michell’s adaptation to the screen of the novel by British author Daphne du Maurier, who wrote famed novel Rebecca. It is a suspense drama dripping with romance and intrigue set on an estate in Cornwall, England during the Victorian era. Michell has given his interpretation of the novel a contemporary spin with hints of dark undertones. The story is set against the breathtaking landscape of the Cornish coast with glimpses of seductive Florence, Italy.
Rachel Weisz stars as Rachel Ashley, widow of Ambrose Ashley, who accepts an invitation to visit her cousin Philip Ashley not long after her husband dies from a brain tumor. Sam Claflin plays Philip Ashley, Ambrose’s ward, cousin and heir, and gives a commanding performance of the manly boy with a tempestuous nature. He uses the occasion of her visit to seek justice for his cousin believing she murdered him. But, when he falls for her too, well, circumstances change and so do his intentions.
What sets the film apart is the brilliant acting by the main and supporting cast! Weisz plays her role consummately and gives the performance of a lifetime giving a nuanced, complex and multi-faceted portrayal of her character. When you think of it, who better to play the complicated role than the critically acclaimed British actor! Is Rachel truly a villainous person with nefarious intentions who seduces men with her beauty and charm for her own material advancement or is she just a beautifully complicated and misunderstood woman seeking happiness on her own terms? Although Rachel Ashley is the object of her cousin’s gaze and Ambrose Ashley, by way of his letters, and to a lesser extent the other men and women in the film, the film subverts the definition of femme fatale. Yes, Rachel Ashley possesses the classic characteristics of a femme fatale – beauty, charm, and sexuality, but there is more to her than meets the eye even though we glimpse her through the filter of a male’s gaze. Is it Philip’s striking resemblance to his older cousin that sets Rachel’s heart on fire when they first meet or does she seduce him to seek her own material comfort and place in the world? What do we make of her knowledge of the healing arts? What about Rachel’s mothering of her cousin reminding him to lick his fingers, marry Louise Kendall before she gets away from him, and tells him to go to bed like a good little boy. Did she really murder her husband Ambrose? What about her past? She is twice-widowed. What of her association with the flamboyant Italian Enrico Rainaldi? Why does she nurse Philip back to health? You’ll have to decide in the end. Is she or isn’t she the femme fatale?
You’ll love not only the acting but the cinematography. The aerial and wide angle shots of the estate and the Cornish coast are sumptuous and captivating. The scene of Rachel and Philip embracing in a carpet of bluebells is cinematography at its finest. If you enjoy period pieces, you’ll enjoy My Cousin Rachel. If you are a fan of Rachel Weisz, then, you’ll love her performance in this period drama ripe with mystery and intrigue. And if she doesn’t win an Academy Award for Best Actress, well, I’ll be darned. If you are a fan of the handsome Sam Claflin, then, you’ll enjoy him in his commanding performance of a manly boy coming into his own. It’s a marvelous film. Do see it!
Fox Searchlight release My Cousin Rachel on Friday, June 9, 2017