Film Review: My Cousin Rachel (USA, 2017) is a wonderful dance along the fine lines between good and evil

For most things in life we ae encouraged to leave our judgements at the door. But this is not the case for the thrilling, gothic romance, My Cousin Rachel. In this case the lady is a woman of mystery wrapped up in a riddle and topped off by an enigma, which means you are in for a ride that gives you much pause for thought.

This film is an adaption of Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel. My Cousin Rachel has been given the silver-screen treatment once before. This previous adaption starred Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton in black and white. In 2017 it is writer and director, Roger Michell (Notting Hill) who gives us a full presentation in technicolour. Michell gives the subject matter a more fresh and contemporary feel and dials up the feminist angle at times.

The story stars Sam Claflin (Me Before You) as the unworldly Philip. When Philip was a young boy he was orphaned, but his bachelor cousin Ambrose became a kind of father figure to him. This history is swiftly dealt with in narrations by Philip in the opening titles. The plot is told from Philip’s perspective and there is an unsettling and ominous tension that underpins this film.

Ambrose had fallen in love and married his half-Italian cousin named Rachel. Life is no bed of roses because soon Ambrose is plagued by ill health. Ambrose travels to Italy and his letters to Philip take on a sinister tone because he accuses Rachel of poisoning him. By the time Philip arrives in Italy Ambrose is dead and Rachel’s close friend claims that Ambrose’s death is due to a brain tumour. Or was it?

Rachel Wesiz does an excellent job of playing the titular character. Philip initially seeks retribution for Ambrose’s death but is soon charmed by Rachel and falls in love with her beguiling ways. Rachel is the subject of much gossip with the rumour mill claiming she is reckless with money and men’s hearts. But is there any veracity to this or is Rachel a misunderstood and independent woman who also happens to be generous and charming? Weisz manages to convey so much emotion and depth with her character that it will have you questioning what is real and what is fake.

My Cousin Rachel has a few things in common with the film Doubt insofar as it slowly reveals more and more about the lead characters and their intentions. It also allows the audience to make their own judgement calls. This is ultimately a clever film that will make you think twice after the rolling credits, especially as you grapple with what has been presented within the context of some bigger questions. For instance: is Rachel just a strong feminist living in Victorian times that are akin to a misogynistic, man’s world? Or is she a black widow femme fatale and gold digger and should people be warned?

My Cousin Rachel is an engrossing, broody and atmospheric period drama that sizzles with different elements like obsession, love and mystery. The haunting soundtrack by Rael Jones and the gorgeous and dark cinematography by Mike Eley combine to make an intelligent masterclass in judgement and truth. My Cousin Rachel is ultimately a story that remains relevant so many decades on because it is like a wonderful dance along some fine lines between good and evil. Brilliant.


My Cousin Rachel is in cinemas today.