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Thursday, June 15, 2017 12:04 am

Weisz captivating in My Cousin Rachel

Rachel Weisz as Rachel in My Cousin Rachel.


“Did she or didn’t she?” That’s the question that hangs over Roger Michell’s My Cousin Rachel, an adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel that’s long on atmosphere as well as tension, as the director doles out one key bit of information after another about the mysterious lead character, none of which seems to be leading the viewer towards answering the above query.

As a warning, I suggest you not be late, as a great deal of vital exposition is dispensed within the first five minutes. A young orphan named Philip (Louis Suc) is taken in by his much older cousin Ambrose and raised with love on his landed estate. However, as the years go by, his guardian grows frail and ultimately moves to Italy as a tonic for his health, leaving the young man (now Sam Claflin) to manage his affairs while he’s away. He gets word that Ambrose has fallen for a cousin of theirs, Rachel (Rachel Weisz), who he encountered in Florence, and they soon marry. However, a series of letters to Philip chronicles his guardian’s decline in health, as well as one before he dies saying that his wife has become his tormentor. After Ambrose’s death, Philip travels to Florence to seek some answers and is told that his cousin had a brain tumor that led to his erratic behavior and ultimate demise. And while Rachel has made no claim on the estate, the young man can’t help but think she had something to do with his guardian’s death.

Your head may be spinning, as all of this is dispensed with before the film’s title card in the credits appears. This is necessary, as Michell obviously wants to spend the bulk of the movie’s running time focusing on the relationship that develops between Philip and Rachel. Though she has no designs on what should be her inheritance due to her husband’s death, Rachel comes calling anyway and soon has everyone under her sway. Her beauty and charm have the servants, the farm tenants, Ambrose’s best friend (Iain Glen) and his daughter Louise (Holliday Grainger), and even the dogs of the household entranced; all of them are won over in an instant. And while Philip is ready to hate her, once he lays eyes on her, he too is but putty in her hands.

What ensues is a masterful game of cat-and-mouse between Philip and Rachel as well as Michell and his audience. Facts are uncovered that seemingly point towards the titular character’s guilt but are soon brushed aside when she acts to the contrary. Of course, Philip is the focus of it all, narrating the story as well as being the eager, naïve plaything Rachel toys with. Not yet 25, he’s no match for the wily manipulations she possesses, and we can’t help but sympathize with him once he reaches his wit’s end.

Kudos to the two leads, each of who run the risk of alienating the audience. Weisz, consummate actress that she is, keeps us guessing the whole time, sincere in her cross-purposes and effortlessly charming on screen. You find yourself more intrigued by what her character’s up to rather than repelled, all thanks to the actress’ deft approach. Claflin is equally impressive, if not as well-known. A standout in such standard fare as The Hunger Games and Me Before You, he perfectly captures the mercurial nature of the brash youth he brings to life, extreme in his actions and emotions but never over the top.

The score by Rael Jones is overused, telling us how to feel when it’s obvious, while the tinge of ambiguity that hangs over the film’s conclusion may irk some. However, its very nature cuts the core of the film’s theme. If My Cousin Rachel reminds us of anything, it’s that though we may think we know the intimate nature of another, what lurks inside each of us is a secret we often take to the grave.
For reviews of The Mummy and It Comes at Night, go to the Cinemascoping blog at http://illinoistimes.com.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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