Susan Granger’s review of “My Cousin Rachel” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel is the epitome of Gothic melodrama, filled with an insidious sense of danger and death.
Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin) was raised by his bachelor uncle Ambrose on a picturesque country estate on England’s Cornish coast. Content with his horses and dogs, Ambrose “Never had much need for women.”
Yet on a trip to Florence, Italy, elderly Ambrose met and married his distant cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz). Soon after, he fell ill and died.
Callow, self-centered 24 year-old Philip blames Rachel for his uncle’s death and when she arrives in Cornwall, he meets her with hatred in his heart.
But he’s inexorably drawn to this calm, charming woman who manipulates him with the same sophisticated skill by which she brews her mysterious herbal teas by candlelight.
Soon, peevish Philip is besotted by the beautifully beguiling, black-lace veiled Rachel, much to the dismay of his godfather, Mr. Kendall (Iain Glen), whose sensible daughter, Louise (Holliday Grainger), everyone presumed Philip would eventually marry.
Adapted and directed by Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”) as a costume drama, it lacks the essential emotional menace and momentum of Du Maurier’s narrative which so clearly delineated an irrepressible, independent woman who, despite mid-19th century society’s restrictions, was determined to live life on her own terms.
While Rachel Weisz (“Denial”) embodies the duality of du Maurier’s inscrutable, yet irresistible Rachel, unfortunately, Sam Claflin (“Me Before You”) never quite grasps impetuous Philip’s essential dilemma.
FYI: After Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh turned down the titular role, the first “My Cousin Rachel” (1952) starred Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton; it was nominated for four Academy Awards.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “My Cousin Rachel” is a stylish, seductive 6, leaving us to wonder: Did she? Didn’t she?