Movie Review: ‘My Cousin Rachel’

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin

Directed by Roger Michell

Running Time 2Hrs, PG-13

My Rating: B

As “My Cousin Rachel” opens, the narrator asks a series of brief, provocative questions that will never be answered. “Did she? Didn’t she?” he ponders. “Who’s to blame?”

The “she” being scrutinized is the title Rachel (Rachel Weisz); the narrator is the square-jawed Philip (Sam Claflin), a wealthy, 25-year-old orphan who acts as the film’s protagonist. The setting is 1800’s England, all mist and moors; the mood is ominous and the atmosphere romantically gloomy like “Jane Eyre” or “Wuthering Heights.”

Based upon the 1951 novel of the same name by author Daphne DuMaurier (itself made into a movie in 1952), this years “My Cousin Rachel” revolves around Philip’s romantic obsession with the beautiful Rachel; the widow of his beloved older cousin Ambrose.

There’s a catch. Ambrose recently died under mysterious circumstances, and Rachel might have had something to do with his demise.

Though he suspects foul play, Philip nonetheless welcomes Rachel into his home, and slowly but surely becomes infatuated with her. Having never been in a romantic relationship, he puts all his energy into chasing after Rachel’s affections. He showers her with jewels and the finest of gowns, devoting almost every moment of his existence to pleasing her. And Rachel, so mannered and elegant, goes back and forth between indifference and appreciation.

Throughout “My Cousin Rachel,” those previously mentioned questions linger. What is Rachel? A vixen or a saint? A schemer or a victim? The constant uncertainty only heightens the movie’s tension, especially when Philip is stricken with a sudden, debilitating illness. But admittedly, we’re slightly irritated that we’re never going to get any definitive answers once the film closes.

Even for its shortcomings in total satisfaction, “My Cousin Rachel” is still a masterwork of Gothic style and performance. Simply looking at the feature is one of its great delights: it’s a vision of inky shadows, flickering candlelight, strings of glittering pearls, and silken ballgowns. Artistically, it’s haunting in ways that suggest all should be prefaced by the statement that everything in store occurred during “a dark and stormy night.”

Claflin is excellent as the good-looking innocent, whose puppy love is so strong that he cannot sense that he might be in danger. It’s Weisz, however, who makes the utmost impression. Beautiful, like a heroine in a 19th-century painting, she’s perfectly cast as the luring femme fatale whose intentions might not be pure.

Fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” (also an adaptation of a DuMaurier work) will undoubtedly be reminded of the film while watching “My Cousin Rachel,” though there’s a possibility they might find it inferior. While “Rebecca’s” various enigmas complemented it, “My Cousin Rachel” asks too many questions we want answered. When they aren’t, its impact is diminished.

That being said, Weisz is so beguiling, and the style is so intoxicating, that we manage to find another way to be thrilled when the storyline underwhelms.

A student at the University of Washington, Blake will major in Visual Communications or Journalism.  petersonreviews.com

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