My Cousin Rachel
Stars: 3.5 out of five
Starring Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger, Andrew Knott, Poppy Lee Friar, Katherine Pearce, Tristram Davies, Andrew Havill, Vicki Pepperdine, Bobby Scott Freeman, Harrie Hayes, Pierfrancesco Favino and Deano Mitchison
Written and directed by Roger Michell
Rated: PG for coarse language and sexual content in a dramatic context, violence, and tobacco use
Runtime: 106 minutes
My Cousin Rachel screens on Monday, April 23 at 7 p.m. at the Arden Theatre as part of the St. Albert Public Library’s Reel Mondays fundraiser. All proceeds go towards producing the St. Albert Readers’ Festival, also known as STARFest.
Tickets are $20 for each screening or $65 for a season ticket for all five movies. They can be purchased at the customer service desk at the library. Call 780-459-1530 or visit www.sapl.ca for more information.
Daphne du Maurier is an interesting novelist whose works have been translated to the screen many times previously. You’ve heard of The Birds? That’s hers. So is Don’t Look Now, a 1973 Nicolas Roeg horror/drama starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie about a grieving couple who might be in contact with the spirit world. Perhaps du Maurier’s most famous work is Rebecca, which similarly explores untimely death and mysteries that arise.
My Cousin Rachel follows in the same vein as Rebecca with a story set on the moors of England. It combines the unrequited love of Jane Austen’s stories with the psychological cruelties that manifested in the characters of Emily Bronte’s tragic novel Wuthering Heights but it combines them in a way that is less of a mix than it is a downright crush. This story has been on screen before but now it gets a more contemporary treatment thanks to writer/director Roger Michell, he of Notting Hill fame. Thankfully, he has Rachel Weisz along to tackle the difficult role of the woman at the heart of this ambiguous affair and mystery.
The tale follows as thus: the young man Philip (Sam Claflin) hears of the ill health of his older cousin Ambrose (Deano Mitchison) through letters, which also tell of his marriage to Rachel and his suspicions about her behaviour and how it related to his ailments. Philip travels from England to Italy to tend to his cousin, only to learn of his passing and Rachel’s disappearance. It all looks pretty bad on her part, and he has already become convinced that she is a murderer even before she shows up to the Cornwall estate, soon to become his property.
But wait… once they finally meet, he is smitten and finds himself courting her, though the evidence against her comes and goes. Did she or didn’t she contribute to Ambrose’s illness and demise? The plot is a cat and mouse game of romantic affection versus criminal investigation. Imagine a Harlequin novel as penned by Agatha Christie and now you’re getting close to the heart of what makes this movie interesting.
My Cousin Rachel is a slow burner, one that certainly tested my patience for its pacing, though it still resides in my memory as a contemplation about how the heart and the mind are often at battle within a person. Weisz certainly saves the entire work with her ambiguous performance as a prepossessing woman with a sketchy past (I didn’t even mention her late first husband) but is unreserved in her ability to move forward to seek new loves. Is she really responsible for the troubles that have shadowed her relationships? Should we judge her for her past even as she tries to break new ground in her life? Do we too often seek to determine what is wrong with a person or even a situation when we should focus on what is right, even if it makes us fools in the end? This adaptation asks those questions. I think du Maurier would wholeheartedly approve.