Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: My Cousin Rachel

Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: My Cousin Rachel

Article excerpt

My Cousin Rachel is an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's mystery-romance and, even though it stars the forever wonderful Rachel Weisz, it's more sedate than suspenseful, more tasteful than dangerous. This should be a creepy, gripping tale of paranoia, deception, lust, and suspicions that are founded, unfounded, founded, then unfounded again. (There is a great deal of founding and unfounding on the suspicion front.) But the high-end, glossy period trappings -- the frocks; the stately mansions; the teal drawing rooms; the horses galloping along scenic cliff paths; that wisteria -- don't play into a dark, gothic atmosphere. It is highly watchable, I have to say, but it won't have you biting your nails to the quick, as it should.

The novel, first published in 1951, was a sensation at the time and kept having to be reprinted. (Victor Gollancz was ecstatic when he initially received the manuscript, recognising that this was du Maurier 'bang on form'.) Like Rebecca, published 13 years earlier, its focus is the toxicity of jealousy, but this time round it's male jealousy rather than female jealousy, so it's a toxicity that extends to the control men expect to have over women. This may even be the real murderer here.

The setting is Cornwall and, inevitably, waves crash endlessly against the rocky coast. (I kept expecting Poldark to truck up.) This is where Philip (Sam Claflin), an orphan, has grown up as the son and heir of his beloved older cousin, Ambrose. Theirs has not been a woman-friendly household, Philip tells us, in voice-over. In fact, the only females that have ever been allowed in are 'the dogs'. But Ambrose must take a trip to Italy, for health reasons, and there, much to everyone's surprise, he falls in love with Rachel (Weisz), a distant cousin -- along with all the founding and unfounding, there is also a great deal of cousin action going on -- and marries her. However, soon after the wedding his letters home say, in effect: 'Help. She's poisoning me. Come rescue me. Quick.' Philip races to Florence but it's too late. Ambrose is dead and Rachel is nowhere to be seen. Did she? Or didn't she? Bump him off? Or did Ambrose suffer from a brain tumour, which made him go crazy prior to his death, as the post-mortem says?

Philip is certain that she is a killer. …

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