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Review: My Cousin Rachel

Starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin, My Cousin Rachel tells the story of a young man’s trials as his emotions and resolve unravel at the hands of an enigmatic woman. Based on the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel is in UK cinemas now. 

An awful lot seems to happen in the film’s opening minutes. We are introduced to Philip (Claflin) as a young boy, and very quickly see him return home a man. We are introduced to the female-free way of life that he leads with the cousin that took him in as a child, and very quickly this man becomes ill and is sent away to Italy. This is when we encounter Rachel. We hear plenty about her from the correspondence between Philip and his cousin, and we have already formed an opinion on her long before we ever meet her. We believe, as Philip does, that she orchestrated the death of his cousin, Lord Ashley.

But things begin to warp as Philip falls for Rachel, and he falls hard. From the outside we can see, as those closest to Philip can, that he’s tumbling faster than he can control. In this sense it’s a classical story: the Tragedy, thinking in terms of the Seven Basic Plots, where our hero’s major flaw becomes their eventual undoing.

We can see this happening. We spend the whole film watching Philip as he first succumbs to his feelings for Rachel, and is then consumed by them. But the fact that we know his course makes the blow no less saddening when it comes. While it is true that Philip comes out the other side, the glimpse we are allowed into his new life doesn’t appear particularly happy, as he is forever changed by having Rachel in his life.

The stand-out aspect of My Cousin Rachel is the performances. Sam Claflin is truly a tormented soul, and I think he plays the part very well. He has so many changes to undergo during the course of the film, and he was well cast in the role. We require a strong, empathetic performance from the hero in these stories for us not to lose interest in their hopeless plight, and I for one thought Claflin kept us by his side the whole time. And Rachel Weisz gave a fantastic performance in the role of Philip’s tormentor. She captured the sympathy of the viewer, particularly in Philip’s madder moments, while still retaining enough allure that his wild fantasies of plots and poison weren’t beyond the bounds of belief.

Special mentions go out to Holliday Grainger as Louise, and Iain Glen as her father, Nick Kendall. I’ve watched Holliday Grainger find her success, going from single-episode appearances in the likes of BBC’s Merlin back in 2008, to the Baroness in Anna Karenina of 2012, and on to bigger and better – there’s definitely room for her to move up through the industry. This woman is one to watch.

Overall, My Cousin Rachel was very well executed in virtually all areas. Particular elements of note are the music and the cinematography – some incredibly artfully composed shots. The film told the story exactly as it needed to, and showed off the talent in front of camera, which was what the story required to come across well to an audience. And while it’s not exactly a feel-good film, it does have its funny moments here and there. It was adapted well (okay, yes, I haven’t read the book, but it seemed to translate well to screen), and it’s a well told story. And while I might not watch it again, at least not for a while, I’m glad I got to see it.

My Cousin Rachel is in cinemas across the UK now. Image source: Web-dl.org