My Cousin Rachel, Director: Roger Michell

Rachel Weisz delivers a wonderfully enigmatic performance in this adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 classic novel, My Cousin Rachel. Impeccably shot and set in the lush Cornish countryside, it’s a mystery-romance-thriller that leaves the viewer pondering the possibilities long after you’ve left the theatre.

Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin) was orphaned as a young child and left in the care of his wealthy cousin Ambrose, who never married. They’re inseparable, and Philip enjoys an idyllic childhood, as the two of them engage in ‘manly pursuits’ and the company of men. In fact, the only women allowed in the house are the dogs. As Philip approaches manhood, Ambrose’s health fails and his doctors advise him to winter in a warmer climate. He opts for sunny Italy, and in letters home, tells Philip he’s met and then happily married, their distant cousin Rachel. But when Philip receives a dire letter, where Ambrose claims Rachel is trying to poison him, he hurries to Italy, only to learn Ambrose is already dead and Rachel is gone.

Not longer after he returns home, she arrives at his estate for an extended stay. While he loathes her at the start, she appears guileless and utterly charming, winning him and most of his confidants over, with perfectly logical explanations for Ambrose’s accusations, including a death certificate proving he died of a brain tumour and was demented at the end of his life.

Philip soon becomes obsessed and ultimately falls in love with his older cousin. She genuinely cares for him, but as a grieving widow, makes it clear she is not available. Or does she? The tension builds as the beautifully crafted script slowly builds layers of misinterpretation, suspicion, assumptions and manipulation. When she kisses him on the lips – is it motherly affection, normal for a woman raised in Italy? Or an invitation? Is Philip really so innocent? When he is generous, is she expressing romantic love or mere gratitude? What does Rachel want?

I loved every moment of this movie. Director Roger Michell has a gift exposing the subtle complexities in human relationships (Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, Venus) pushing his A-list cast and drawing our some of their finest performances. Working with Rachel Weisz, they’ve created a mysterious character who is at the same time disarmingly open and warm.

Did she murder her husband? Go see it and decide for yourself.

Veronica McLaughlin

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