REVIEW — “My Cousin Rachel”
My Cousin Rachel is based upon the classic 1951 novel by Daphne du Maurier, and has received several other adaptations and interpretations over the years. Admittedly, I’ve neither seen any of the previous films, TV adaptations, or stage plays – but I was fairly intrigued when I was informed that Maurier also wrote The Birds and Rebecca; both of which cranked out two fantastic films through their adaptations. Going into this blind was probably the best way to experience the film, as I watched the trailer for the first time after my screening and was surprised at how blatantly it spoils most of the film and sells something slightly more thrilling and frantic than what I saw. My Cousin Rachel follows Philip (Sam Clafin) who begins plotting revenge against his charming and gorgeous cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz), believing she’s behind the death of his beloved guardian for the sake of inheritance. This plot for revenge gets more and more complicated as the film progresses, as Philip falls under the trance of Rachel’s charm and their relationship takes several unexpected turns.
One of the most surprising aspects of this film is Roger Michell’s direction. I was taken back at how gorgeously shot this was and expertly it builds tension for a majority of the running time. Michell does an absolutely fantastic job at utilizing sound cues, framing, camera focus, and a gorgeous production design to the film’s benefit – making for the first two acts of this film to be completely engaging. I love when Victorian-era films are modernized in terms of their style and aren’t afraid to indulge themselves in the same amount of energy as modern day thrillers do. The performances are also pretty serviceable; Rachel Weisz absolutely crushes this role and puts the audience in a trance alongside Philip. It is so fascinating to watch her work with this material, as it seems to suit her seamlessly. Sam Clafin does a solid job in this role, but I think my issues with his character get in the way of me being able to praise his performance.
The most disappointing aspect of this film is how it abandons its mystery and refreshing subtlety once you reach the third act. Things certainly get more hectic and tensions rise fairly quickly, but it loses a sense of personality and identity that had me hooked once the film started. As I previously said, I haven’t read the novel, so perhaps this is also an issue I would have there – but I was fairly underwhelmed with where this ended up by the time the credits rolled. It’s the kind of 110 minute (give or take a few) film that is completely solid and engaging for 80. Then, there comes a point where you think it’s about to end and you’re completely content with where it’s heading. And then, it keeps going.. and going.. and going. Then, by the time it ultimately reaches it’s destination and cuts to credits, you are frustrated that you still end up saying “Really? That’s it? That’s what all the build-up was for?”
I’m absolutely not a person that needs an explosive finale, as I quite often find myself appreciating films with more nuance and subtlety that leave me thinking long after I leave the theater. In the case of My Cousin Rachel, I understood what the finale and “twist” meant for the characters and how it was supposed to change how I viewed the rest of the film, but I ultimately found it to be a weak development for them that turns a would-be fascinating character study into somewhat of a sloppy one. I don’t want to bash this too hard, as I do think a solid portion of this film works and is benefited from excellent direction and committed performances from its actors – but I was undeniably underwhelmed at how this thrill ride screeched to halt by the third act. I will recommend it for people who are fans of this genre or have read the novel, but I have a hard time recommending it for anyone else, unless you just really like films that depressingly fall apart by the end and taint everything else you previously experienced. 2.5/5.