FILM REVIEW: Rachel Weisz impresses in My Cousin Rachel

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Did she or didn’t she? Rachel Weisz is a mysterious widow in this adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s page-turning historic novel My Cousin Rachel, writes Natalie Stendall.

Is she a murderer? An accomplished seductress seeking her late husband’s inheritance? Philip (Sam Claflin) is convinced she’s responsible for his cousin’s peculiar death in Italy. But when she arrives in England, he too becomes mesmerised by her beauty and easy charm.

My Cousin Rachel sweeps us along with Claflin’s impulsive and gullible character. He’s slow to pick up on the clues writer-director Roger Michell throws our way.

Take Rachel’s fondness for exotic herbal teas and her sudden changes of heart. Michell succeeds in creating an ironic distance between the audience and Philip that has traces of suspense. Yet with all his flagrant clue dropping, Michell fails to manage the plot twists with any real element of surprise.

Rachel Weisz singlehandedly rescues the mystery with her compelling ambiguity. Her mourning appears genuine, her warmth and kindness are neither strained nor forced. Yet the briefest of glances betrays something else. Here Michell attempts to weave in a feminist thread, touching on the position of widows in a patriarchal society. He comes close to offering real substance, but becomes distracted by his own mystery. By comparison with William Oldroyd’s bold, innovative and stylish Lady Macbeth (released earlier this year) the ambiguity of Michell’s My Cousin Rachel quickly fades.

Michell, the award winning director of Notting Hill (1999), Le Weekend (2013) and mini series The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries (2014), is in tough company when it comes to Du Maurier adaptations. Du Maurier’s novels formed the basis of Alfred Hitchcock’s Oscar-winning Rebecca and The Birds. Michell’s approach is more straightforward.

His My Cousin Rachel is a functional costume drama that loses its suspense in the thinness of plot.