My Cousin Rachel

 

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Daphne du Maurier’s cracking good yarn of 1951 is resurrected under the proficient guidance of Roger Michell.

 

My Cousin Rachel

Relative values: Sam Claflin and Rachel Weisz

  

Daphne du Maurier has supplied a canon of memorable characters, feasted upon by the large and small screen for the past 78 years. Her 1951 novel My Cousin Rachel has been adapted for television, the cinema, the radio and for the stage and now arrives in its second big-screen incarnation. Not surprisingly, Rachel Ashley is a doozie of a character. The story’s narrator claims, “She is radiant, she is good, she is the kindest companion.” She is a good deal besides, as discovered by the narrator’s young cousin, the slovenly, cavalier and ultimately naïve Philip Ashley, played here by the ascendant Sam Claflin. Previously portrayed on screen by Olivia de Havilland, Rachel herself is now given form by Rachel Weisz in another sterling performance.

 

Under the guidance of Roger Michell, the film begins conventionally enough with a wash of exposition delivered in voice-over above breath-taking views of Cornwall and Florence. There’s also the sinister music of Rael Jones, suggesting this might be a Gothic thriller disguised as a romantic tragedy. The orphan Philip dotes on his cousin Ambrose (also played by Claflin), who’s moved from Cornwall to Florence for his health and there meets the good and radiant Rachel. Ambrose quickly falls under her spell and marries her, much to the chagrin of Philip, whose absent cousin has left a large hole in his life. Then Philip discovers a plea for help, scrawled on the inside of an envelope from Ambrose. Not wanting for money, Philip packs his bags and heads for Florence, only to discover that his cousin is dead and that Rachel has disappeared. Then, back in Cornwall, Philip is told of Rachel’s arrival in England and so invites her to stay at his country estate in order to seek justice…

 

Michell, best known for his contemporary films Notting Hill, The Mother and Le Week-End, has resisted the temptation to go Gothic and just lets the story and Rachel Weisz do their bit. It is a wonderfully handsome piece and Weisz’s Rachel is a handsome, direct and even funny presence who artfully allays Philip’s suspicions. Claflin himself proves again what a good actor he is (cf. Me Before You, Their Finest), although his range has yet to be tested. But it’s the story that’s the thing and its subterranean, uneasy power still exerts a potent grip.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Holliday Grainger, Iain Glen, Pierfrancesco Favino, Simon Russell Beale, Vicki Pepperdine, Tim Barlow, Poppy Lee Friar, Andrew Havill.

 

Dir Roger Michell, Pro Kevin Loader, Screenplay Roger Michell, Ph Mike Eley, Pro Des Alice Normington, Ed Kristina Hetherington, Music Rael Jones, Costumes Dinah Collin.

 

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Free Range Films-20th Century Fox.

105 mins. UK/USA. 2017. Rel: 9 June 2017. Cert. 12A.