My Cousin Rachel Cinches Blood Ties

Movie Review: My Cousin Rachel

Rachel Weisz performs a dance of several veils as Roger Michell revisits Victorian archetype through a psychologically modern lens

My Cousin Rachel

4/5

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Holliday Granger, Iain Glen, Pierfrancesco Favino

Directed by: Roger Michell

Running time: 1 hr 46 mins

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Cousin Rachel

Rachel Rachel: Rachel Weisz plays her heavy role with a light touch.

By Katherine Monk

Some women just have no respect for boundaries. Not because they don’t know they are there, but because flirting with the edge of convention gives them a sense of control they wouldn’t otherwise attain. Men often do the same thing, but they don’t need control. They want to lose it.

It’s a dizzying cycle, and Roger Michell gives us a hunters’ blind to observe the phenomenon up close with My Cousin Rachel.

Based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel, originally brought to the screen in 1952 with Olivia De Havilland and a breakout performance from Richard Burton, My Cousin Rachel explores a familiar archetype from a slightly different perspective.

It’s 19th century England, a time when women were either married to wealthy men, provided for by family, or left to fend for themselves. If they failed, they became what literature refers to as a ‘fallen woman’ — the woman who sold it all in a bid to survive.

It’s a corseted context for a female character, but that only makes the shape of My Cousin Rachel all the curvier.

Unexpectedly widowed shortly after her marriage to Mr. Ashley, Cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz) pays a visit to her late husband’s English estate, which his handsome young ward Philip (Sam Claflin) is about to inherit.

Philip immediately distrusts this interloper who stole the heart of his guardian and returned a casket. Yet, the minute he lays eyes on Rachel, he’s hypnotized by her beauty, as well as her penchant for risky behaviour.

An expert rider, eager reader and accomplished linguist, Rachel is unlike any woman Philip has ever known. She doesn’t coo behind a fan and bat her eyelashes. She takes the situation by the reins, and that’s exactly what Philip wants — even if he’s not entirely aware of his own inner desires.

Michell orchestrates an elegant dance between these two characters. The melody is all broody Brontë, but the beats are modern, almost absurdist, as random events and revelations define the denouement.

It’s an interesting treatment, and it matches du Maurier’s idea of revisiting the classic Victorian female from a 20th-century perspective. Manipulative, conniving women inevitably assumed evil proportions in a 19th century lens. Yet, what if we saw their desire for money and power as their only means to secure personal autonomy without marriage?

Michell orchestrates an elegant dance between these two characters. The melody is all broody Brontë, but the beats are modern, almost absurdist, as random events and revelations define the denouement.

The standard Victorian she-devil would look like a modern-day Martha Stewart.

Michell has a fun time playing with expectation, and so does the rest of the cast. Despite the endless sense of doom, Michell imbues the frames with a certain lightness — a gentle guffaw at the comedy of our little human games.

Weisz allows herself to become a post-modern wink to stereotype. A 21st Rachel playing the part of a 19th century Rachel, imbued with a 20th century sensibility. It’s a wickedly fun piece of this detailed puzzle that Michell creates through fragments of character, and places via our own expectations.

All you have to do is fasten your seatbelt. The internal turbulence of ambiguity and ambient downward forces create all the drama. Yet it’s the seemingly effortless performances from the entire cast that keep My Cousin Rachel in the air, providing the required craft for such a wonderfully bumpy ride.

@katherinemonk

THE EX-PRESS.COM, June 9, 2017

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Review: My Cousin Rachel

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Summary

4Score

Roger Michell directs Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin in an updated adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's psychological thriller about a guardian and his ward, and the woman who could destroy everything. It's a delicate dance, ensuring there's a lightness of despite the looming doom and gloom. -- Katherine Monk

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