Film Review: Rachel Weisz is Magnetic in My Cousin Rachel

Photograph courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

The type of obsessive love story that only makes sense as a period piece, My Cousin Rachel is the tale of Philip (Sam Claflin, most recently seen in Their Finest) whose older male cousin (who also raised him) has recently died, leaving him alone in the world except for the woman whom the cousin had recently married and may very well have been his murderer as well. Philip prepares to confront the woman, named Rachel Ashley (and played by the positively hypnotic Rachel Weisz), but when he meets her, her unassuming ways and exotic looks completely captivate him and before long he is positively smitten with her and ready to turn over all of his worldly possessions, not unlike his cousin nearly did.

Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, adapted by director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Le Week-End, Changing Lanes), My Cousin Rachel is more than just a story about a young man falling in love for the first time and confusing expensive gifts with actual signs of affection. Michell has constructed a deeply strange mystery in which we are never quite certain whether Rachel is using the young man—and possibly even slowly poisoning him to get to his riches quicker—or if she genuinely cares about him and is attempting to protect him by keeping a certain distance from him while also clearly leading him on.

Iain Glen (“Game of Thrones”) plays Nick Kendall, Philip’s godfather and executor of his estate, who attempts to protect the young man and his fortune, and the lovesick fool is on the verge of potentially losing everything in the heat of the moment. Kendall’s daughter, Louise (Holliday Grainger), is Philip’s lifelong friend and presumed love interest until Rachel arrives on the scene, casting a spell on unsuspecting Philip. Claflin’s portrayal of an overly emotional (and embarrassingly virginal) target is quite convincing.

But it’s Weisz’s beguiling work that goes beyond captivating to the point where every scene she’s in alternates between her seeming beyond guilty of deliberately corrupting Philip to rob him blind, and her seeming completely harmless and innocent, and Philip seeming overly eager to please her when she has asked for nothing. It’s a twisting, turning emotional journey for everyone involved, including the audience, and even having watched My Cousin Rachel to the bitter end, I’m still not sure I know the truth, which I believe is the point and the best place to land with this work. The movie is stunningly photographed, deftly acted and masterfully structured by Michell, and while Philip’s behavior is sometime frustrating to watch in its gross immaturity, it also rings disappointingly true.

The film opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.

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