My Cousin Rachel
Here’s a summer epic about a powerful independent woman who accomplishes extraordinary things. No, it’s not Wonder Woman. This is a lady whose powers enable her to wrap strong men around her little finger. In the coastal Cornwall countryside, young Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin,
has grown to hunky young manhood as the ward of his doting older cousin Ambrose. Ambrose winters abroad for his health, and as our story opens, his letters home from Italy reveal that the lifelong bachelor has met Rachel, a distant cousin, fallen in love, and married. The first letters are ecstatic. But soon they take a darker, paranoid turn. He distrusts his bride. He’s getting sick. He begs Philip to come at once.
When Philip arrives in Florence, he finds his guardian dead and Cousin Rachel gone. He returns to Cornwall angry, confused, and bitter.
Philip has grown up motherless and in an atmosphere almost entirely devoid of female presence, so he has come of age not knowing a lot about women. He can gallop at breakneck speeds along the cliffs of Cornwall, he can bale hay and swing a scythe, but he can’t seem to manage a clean shave. He gets his inheritance on his twenty-fifth birthday — which is coming soon.
Coming even sooner, however, is Cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz), who arrives to see the place where her beloved Ambrose lived. Philip greets her with a heart smoldering with hatred. But confronted with her mysterious Anglo-Italian beauty, swathed in a black widow’s weeds and veil that make her resemble Melania Trump standing next to the Pope, Philip falls hard.
We wait a long time for Weisz to appear, and she does not disappoint. She’s an enigma wrapped in a spider’s web. Poor puppy-dog Philip never stands a chance. Meanwhile we’re learning a few things about Rachel. Rumors swirl that she’s promiscuous. She’s seriously overdrawn in her finances. None of this dents Philip’s infatuation. Up until now it has been requited only with a kiss, but more, inevitably, is on the way. And when it comes, it seals the deal.
To the horror of his godfather (Iain Glen) and his lawyer (Simon Russell Beale), Philip makes plans to turn over to Rachel his entire estate as soon as it falls into his hands. She has a will from Ambrose that leaves everything to her. It’s unsigned but morally compelling to the smitten Philip.
In the capable hands of Roger Michell this 1951 Daphne du Maurier tale makes an entertaining summer diversion, though it is plagued by annoying details and a ridiculous ending. Claflin plays a naïve, bumptious twit, and he manages well enough. The supporting cast is excellent, including the manservant Seecombe (Tim Barlow), a withered old cuss with an unforgettable profile. But this is Weisz’s picture, and she delivers a layered, fascinating, ambiguous character that will leave you uncertain as to just what she has been up to for the past hour and three-quarters. — Jonathan Richards