Roger Michel’s My Cousin Rachel, the latest in a long line of Daphne du Maurier adaptations (one that began with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1939 adaptation of Jamaica Inn) is a tale of romance, deception and mystery.
The narrative centres upon Phillip, a young English orphan who discovers that his guardian has passed away under the care of his cousin Rachel. Now a widow, she visits Phillip at the estate of her dearly departed, but suspecting that his cousin has played a hefty hand in the death of his guardian, he plans to confront her with contrary consecution.
The glaring issue is that the first two acts are certainly predictable. As sure as Phillip melts with the butter of the pastries he consumes upon meeting his beautiful cousin, it is obvious as to what to expect. Yet, My Cousin Rachel manages to maintain an air of fascination, and this fascination falls on the superior shoulders of actress Rachel Weisz. She excels in the role and fulfils the character in such a way that we discontinue to question the foolish decisions of the protagonist. After all, in his shoes, many would disregard logic in loving pursuit.
As for the rest of the cast, they manage satisfactorily and never feel false. But, the film’s real achievement is that its falsehoods and truths are never concrete. Despite the predictability of its progression, there is always distrust in but also sympathy for Rachel. As Phillip feels, it becomes rational to condemn her and immediately dash away any suspicions upon seeing her honest expression. When the inevitable clichés surface, it becomes apparent that you must question as to what extent the proof the suspicions possess. This shifting alignment between characters keeps the tale alive for the duration of the piece and ensures that as long as there are doubts in Phillip’s mind, there indeed should be increasing ambiguities in the mind of the viewer.
The sterling costuming and decorous cinematography extend a blissful balance between the modern and the gothic. Some exterior shots look phenomenal, and in this way, it is a shame there were not more opportunities to expand what is seen of the surrounding landscapes. The elegance of these minimal shots helps give the film a sense of gloss without the interiors of the home, which is methodically candle-lit in many scenes to achieve a sense of looming entrapment. Minimalist use of music would have been beneficial in certain scenes, as occasionally its overwhelming use detracted from the human drama that the acting comfortably provided.
Weisz’s convincing portrayal makes sure that audiences question the truth of what is happening, and although the film never achieves a maximum sense of intrigue, it never feels definitive.