Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton are tough acts to follow, but in Fox Searchlight’s attractive new production of the Daphne Du Maurier gothic classic My Cousin Rachel, the teaming of Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin (Me About You, The Hunger Games) give it a nice try and succeed on their own terms.
Burton won his first Oscar nomination opposite de Havilland in the 1952 screen adaptation playing Philip, a young man who becomes obsessed with the enigmatic Rachel, a mysterious woman who had married his older cousin Ambrose. The film opens on the Ashley Estate in Cornwall, England, where we first meet Philip as a boy who truly looks up to his cousin who looked after the orphaned young man for most of his years growing up.
Unfortunately, illness forces Ambrose to seek a more friendly climate so he is off to Florence, Italy, but letters soon arrive signaling trouble with his marriage to Rachel (Weisz) who is tormenting him. He calls for Philip to come join him, but when he does, he discovers Ambrose is dead and Rachel is nowhere to be found. He immediately suspects her of murdering his beloved cousin as he fears the worst has happened. He vows revenge on this woman. When she does suddenly turn up, Philip finds she isn’t at all the monster he imagined and they strike up a unique and intriguing relationship that finds Rachel manipulating him into turning over inheritance of the vast Ashley Estate and seducing him as only she can. Despite warnings of others such as Louise Kendall (Holiday Grainger), who has a thing for Philip herself, he comes under the spell of Rachel in ways that he can’t control.
Weisz completely dominates the film even in scenes she isn’t in. It is a great role and she brings all the ambiguity, cunning, charm, and mystery it requires — and then some. She’s simply superb, but would you expect less from this Oscar winner? Claflin, who plays both the older Philip and his guardian Ambrose, continues to show promise as one of the better young actors of his generation as he finds himself in worthwhile films that meet his talent. I really liked Grainger, who lends a certain sweetness and reality to the proceedings. Iain Glen is also fine among the supporting cast as Nick Kendall.
Roger Michell, who has done such outstanding films as Notting Hill as well as an underrated favorite of mine Changing Lanes, wrote and directs this adaptation with the flair it needs to connect to a new generation who may never have even heard of it. It is all gorgeously gothic and the perfect counter-programming to the bombast of summer flicks and one that should draw a similar adult crowd that appreciated another Fox Searchlight update of a literary and movie classic, Far From The Madding Crowd. The producer is Kevin Loader.
Do you plan to see My Cousin Rachel? Let us know what you think.