MY COUSIN RACHEL gets 5/10 My chemical romance

Directed by Rodger Mitchell
Starring Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Ian Glen

5/10

Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurie (Rebecca, Jamaica Inn) My Cousin Rachel is a dose of historical mystery-romance with a rich period setting, and an accomplished cast. However there is something off about My Cousin Rachel, more than just the character, or the central mystery that lies at this story’s heart.

For those unfamiliar with the novel, it goes something as follows. When his adopted father is sent to warmer climes to aid his health, Philip (Sam Claflin) takes over the care of his English manor, and finds things to his liking. However this peace is shattered when he finds that his guardian has remarried, and soon after begins to receive disturbing letters claiming that his wife is attempting to murder him. When tragedy does eventually fall, the new widow heads to England to see Philip, but instead of plotting revenge, he finds himself soon bewitched by his cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz). However the herbal teas that she brews, may have detrimental effects for Phillip.

Richly appointed, and narratively inert, My Cousin Rachel offers nothing we haven’t seen before in this genre save the ambiguity of the storyline. It does do a wonderful job of realising the world, both in terms of the luxurious period detail that it lavishes attention on, and it’s creation on a small society rife rife petty suspicions, intrigue and sexual jealousy. Although all this is just surface affect, it never goes deeper to create something believable. Which leaves My Cousin Rachel feeling like little more than a bland period pot-boiler, when it clearly wants to be (and should be) something more.

So that questioning of Rachel’s motivations (is she capable of murder for wealth, is she planning the same again) becomes tedious, rather than the dramatic grist that it should be for the story. It is played for high melodrama, rather than subtly that is required to explore the mystery at the centre of this tale. The question of her guilt or innocence is not addressed in general terms, but rather by the dictates of that moment. Hence the film lurches all over the place tonally, like some hormonal ravaged teenager, torn between love and hate.

In that way My Cousin Rachel appears to have dramatically missed the mark. Director Rodger Mitchell (Notting Hill) creates a film that is so the epitome of the genre, that it apparently fails to realise what a subversive story it is really telling. Philip is not a tortured romantic hero, he is a spoiled man-child, stunted by his upbringing, incapable of expressing his emotions beyond desire and control. Rachel may be every terrible thing she is rumoured to be, or an independent woman struggling to make her way in a system stacked against her. In playing it as such a straight (albeit beautiful) period piece, Mitchell glosses over this nuance.

Its easy to compare My Cousin Rachel to this year’s earlier Lady Macbeth, for its similar themes, and setting. By comparison it appears lacking to that dark stiletto of a film, that delved straight to motivation and desire. Fans of du Maurie, or the period setting may get something from this film that they may enjoy. For the rest of us, it leaves us wanting something more than indulgent melodrama.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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