By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Acclaimed author Daphne du Maurier’s works Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, The Birds, and Don’t Look Now have inspired producers and directors to make film adaptations. Her novel My Cousin Rachel has already received one film adaptation in 1952 by director Henry Koster and received both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations in more than one category. I actually have not seen the original film (nor have I read the book); therefore, I have no basis for comparison with this newest version. The new adaptation by director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) does offer some solid suspense and mystery and features an outstanding performance by Rachel Weisz. However, something tells me that the original film is much better, as this version barely qualifies for film accolades, save for the acting award nominations deserved by the lead actress.
Weisz stars as the titular cousin Rachel and does so with much confidence. The character’s name may be in the title of the story, but this essentially is the story of Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin), a young man who grew up without his biological parents under the care of his older bachelor cousin Ambrose. As Philip grows into adulthood, Ambrose grows ill and is forced to leave his estate for a climate more suitable for his health. During his time away, Ambrose marries a woman named Rachel, but dies after a few years. Convinced by letters from Ambrose and other suspicious clues, Philip believes that Rachel is a gold digger responsible for his cousin’s death. However, after Rachel arrives to the estate to pay her respects to Philip, her charming personality and bewitching beauty easily changes his mind and the young man finds himself enamored with Cousin Rachel.
Written and directed by Roger Michell, My Cousin Rachel gets off to a great start, but grows frustrating and tedious towards the end. Based on du Maurier’s story, Michell does well in creating an air of mystery and suspense surrounding the intentions of Rachel Ashley. What becomes tiresome and annoying is the development of the Philip character who seems to grow more inept and stupid as the story progresses. I do realize that his character has fallen in love with Rachel, but his ignorance grows to incredulous levels during the middle acts. It got to the point where I couldn’t stand his character, and couldn’t care less what happens to him.
That isn’t the fault of actor Sam Claflin who performs well in the role. It is simply the way the character is written and developed. Still, Claflin’s boyish charm and the sweet naivete he brings to the character couldn’t redeem him for me. The movie also offers competent performances by Iain Glenn, Holliday Grainger, Poppy Lee Friar, Andrew Knott, Simon Russell, and Tristam Davies. However, as I noted above, Weisz is absolutely stunning in the role of Cousin Rachel and is the chief reason to go see this movie. Weisz does an amazing job as a perfectly subtle and restrained seductress who never, ever gets ugly and mean on the surface. Her character could literally be the devil in disguise and no one would be the wiser.
And even though this performance is a marvel and a delight to behold, I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to see this movie or paying top dollar to do so. If looking for something different from the usual bombastic summer fare, this film would make for a fine matinee. Otherwise, one might consider watching the original film adaptation, as it received more nominations than this one deserves. I, myself, have already added it to my watch list.