Combustible Celluloid
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Holliday Grainger, Iain Glen, Pierfrancesco Favino, Simon Russell Beale, Vicki Pepperdine
Written by: Roger Michell, based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Directed by: Roger Michell
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality and brief strong language
Running Time: 106
Date: 06/09/2017

My Cousin Rachel (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Enemy of the Estate

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The novels of Daphne Du Maurier should be a prime source for filmmakers, given that the author's works fueled three of Alfred Hitchcock's movies, Jamaica Inn (1939), Rebecca (1940), and The Birds (1963). Now filmmaker Roger Michell (Notting Hill, The Mother, Venus) snaps up another of her stories, My Cousin Rachel, for his latest feature. Michell is often terrific at films about people and emotions, but he seems to be lacking the stuff of genre; in other words, he effectively generates longing and suffering, but he can't quite whip up much suspense or dark manipulation.

Sam Claflin stars as Philip, and it's a strangely off-putting performance. For the movie's first two-thirds, Claflin either smirks or flashes his dazzling white teeth. He also takes part in a most annoying movie cliche: the two-day chin scruff that stays the same every day (he never shaves, nor grows a beard). Ultimately, he seems like a jerk, but though I suspect this is on purpose, it's difficult to be sure. In any case, he's an orphan that has been raised by his older cousin, the largely unseen Ambrose, on his large country estate. Falling ill, Ambrose has departed for Italy, where his letters indicate that he has fallen for a woman named Rachel, but further letters hint that she is an evil presence. Ambrose dies, and Philip is set to inherit the estate in some months on his 25th birthday, while Rachel (Rachel Weisz) decides to visit.

Philip is suspicious of Rachel, but quickly falls for her charms, although the cute, ever-present Louise (Holliday Grainger) is clearly already fond of him. Weisz is terrific here; her Rachel runs hot and cold, sometimes disappearing, sometimes making tea; but even the dogs are attracted to her and follow her around. Soon Philip becomes convinced that she is the rightful heir to the estate, and hopelessly in love with her, becomes obsessed with giving her his late mother's jewelry, and with signing everything over to her.

Michell creates many striking images to underscore the rocky relationship between the doting younger man and the flattered older woman. A dead tree branch hangs over their little beach bonfire, and a squished patch of bluebell flowers highlights a sad physical encounter. Yet while these things enhance the characters, and sharpen the performances of the two leads, they don't really reach Hitchcock territory. There's a sense of rhythm to a good suspense movie, with vicious pauses and terrible reveals, that Michell doesn't follow; his rhythm is more in line with a soap opera.

Yet, working with what he has, and doing what he does best, Michell has still created an emotionally gripping tale, just a little shaggier and more alluring than a typical, pristine, polite costume movie would have been. As an addendum, Du Maurier fans may wish to know that, My Cousin Rachel was filmed twice before, in 1952 with Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton, and in 1983, as a BBC miniseries with Geraldine Chaplin. I haven't seen either, but it might be interesting to compare.

Movies Unlimtied