My Cousin Rachel (2017)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

Daphne Du Maurier is best known for her novel, Rebecca, a spellbinding story of a woman without a name, haunted by the memories of her husband’s first wife. Lesser known but beloved among mystery novelist aficionados is My Cousin Rachel, a story of moral ambivalence and suspicion, fraught with an unreliable narrator who cannot determine the truth of a young woman’s intentions.

After his parents’ deaths, young Philip finds a home with his cousin, Ambrose. Content on the farm, he grows up uninterested in changing his fortunes, and fonder of home than school. As an adult, Philip (Sam Claftin) returns home only to watch his cousin’s health deteriorate. The physicians send him abroad to take the air, and there, he soon meets and falls in love with an Italian woman. Philip receives regular letters… and then none, until one arrives smuggled out of the house that contains a belief that Rachel is trying to “kill” Ambrose. Soon after, he dies.

Determined to find out the truth and punish this woman if she murdered his cousin, Philip offers her use of the country house… but when she arrives, Rachel (Rachel Wiesz) is not what he expected. Beautiful, charming, and sincere, she has a stout heart and gentle nature, shares her opinions but also keeps secrets, is a paradox in his mind he cannot figure out… and soon, he falls in love with her. How inconvenient, if she is a murderess…

Since I have not read the novel, I went in with preconceptions about how the story would unfold and expected something other than how it turned out; the ambiguities rage throughout, which makes for a tense mind-bender, as you first consider her guilt, then her innocence, then her guilt again. The hero also plays the role of a villain, since you cannot be sure his suspicions (and subsequent treatment of Rachel) are sincere; he can be both an utter fool, and a total delight as he either plays into her hands or manipulates her.

Rachel is an enigmatic leading lady, and the audience is no surer of her than Philip, while Holliday Grainger plays a sweet supporting role of the savvy, wise and often overlooked Louise Kendall, daughter of Philip’s lawyer. She is a voice of reason but also jealousy as his delusions (or are they accurate suspicions?) unfold. Everything about the film drips with intrigue, although I found the overt sex scene distasteful and less classy than the rest, which devotes much of its screen time to playing with light and darkness, to aesthetic appeal, and to the natural perils of their surroundings.

I’m not sure how it measures up against the book, but I won’t soon forget it.

 

Sexual Content:
A man enters a woman’s bedchamber and infers he’d like her for his birthday present (they climb into bed together); he unbuckles his pants, lays her down in a field of bluebells, and has sex with her the next day (we see her face / hear his pleasure, and see movement for at least thirty seconds); suspicions revolve around extra-marital affairs; a woman says of a man, “he likes men.”
 
Language:
One f-word, scattered profanities.
 
Violence:
A man and his horse almost die when a cliff path collapses under them; a man becomes aggressive with a woman in a stairwell when she refuses his romantic advances and closes his hand around her throat, breaking her necklace; we see a body at the  bottom of a cliff, and an injured horse (from a distance; the animal is shot / killed in the background).

Other:
None.