It’s always a worry when I highly anticipate a film because with that enters a certain sense of trepidation. My Cousin Rachel had me anticipating it and I couldn’t wait for it’s release. Adapted from Daphne du Maurier novel (which I haven’t read) by Roger Michell, it had promise of a fantastic mysterious period drama.
And this mystery is the strong undertone felt through My Cousin Rachel as it opens with Philip (Sam Claflin) openly questioning “Did she? Didn’t she?” and quickly recounts a young Philips life. He takes residence at his cousin Ambrose’s estate after being left an orphan at a young age. In this opening segment there is a lack of a female presence, so much that Philip retorts ‘women weren’t allowed in the house, only the dogs’.
And Roger Michell really begins to divulge the screen by having the sprawling English countryside to the dark and dingy estate, really emphasising the boisterous attitude of Ambrose and Philip. This opening segment also gives the opportunity to pry into the character of Philip as he’d rather spend time on the grand estate of Ambrose’s than learn at school.
But also the hatred that slowly consumes Philip as he learns of Ambrose’s relationship to Rachel via the means of letter as Ambrose spends the winters in Italy in an attempt to get better. This opening 20 or so minutes slowly becomes brilliant as Rachel isn’t introduced other than the throwaways comments from people regarding her appearance, weight and height.
That is until Rachel arrives in England. This is where the film sets itself apart in two areas. The first part being Philips consuming hatred and loathsome attitude towards Rachel, and then the second being the infatuation and spell-like bliss Philip finds himself in.
But as I mentioned, this mysterious undertone carries itself quietly throughout the film and leaves you guessing throughout. Quite constantly. And it all centres around this ‘did she? Didn’t she?’ as she recounts her love for Ambrose, whilst the letters from Ambrose suggest otherwise. Rachel Weisz plays Rachel perfectly and this consistent mysterious air that surrounds My Cousin Rachel has stayed with me. And the question remains, did she kill Ambrose?
This is only but helped by the believable infatuation of Sam Claflin’s Philip. His puppy-dog gaze as he dismisses his earlier thoughts without a moments notice is brilliant. Unfortunately, the narrative does trot toward an unsurprising ending considering the events that unfold, but the brilliance of the characters by Weisz and Claflin do help it over that final hump.
Iain Glen and Holliday Granger do help the picture progress, especially as Nick Kendall (Iain Glen) becomes surprised and mentioned that Philip has become infatuated by Rachel. Their role in My Cousin Rachel becomes intriguing as they serve as confidants, but also a neutral party between Philip and Rachel, but they help narrative move through it’s 100+ minute runtime.
Although the music helped the mysterious manner of My Cousin Rachel, it did at times take me out of the film with the same laborious tune over and over. Aside from that and the aforementioned foreseeable ending the film didn’t have much to not enjoy. Roger Michell really does indulge himself with this picture and creates some gorgeous shots, including the short of Rachel and Philip walking out into the snow. The costume design really worked well as Rachel is constantly in black, almost as though she is in mourning, which helps with the intrigue of the did she, didn’t she element throughout the film.
I did enjoy My Cousin Rachel, but didn’t love it. It did work to a large degree with the intriguing mysterious narrative throughout, but the clear stars would be Weisz and Claflin in the leads, as they simply stole the show. This is only helped by the Roger Michell’s devotion to the costume period drama that My Cousin Rachel becomes and the crawling shots of the English countryside.