Roger Michell, with a back catalogue of features that includes Notting Hill, Le Week-End and Enduring Love, is clearly adept in his field, and unsurprisingly pulls it off again with Daphne Du Maurier’s drama, My Cousin Rachel. Adapting and directing this haunting thriller of torment, deadly suspicion and complex forbidden love, Michell adds another adaptation to the list, after the 1952 film came out starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton. Weisz’s Rachel gives the 1952 version a run for her money, with a stunning performance, which not only distresses Philip but us too, the audience.
Set on the eye-catching Cornish coastline, young Englishman Philip, played by Sam Claflin has his reservations about his cousin Rachel, played by Weisz when her husband (Philip’s guardian, Ambrose, to whom he is heir) dies out in sun-drenched Italy. After receiving a profoundly incriminating letter, Philip vows to find out what happened to his cousin and guardian. Despite warnings from those close to him, the radiance of Weisz’s Rachel conjures up feelings, which to cloud his better judgement. Infatuated by her beauty and femininity, Philip is under her spell, pre-empting emotional and physical pain, as the plot thickens and we move further into Du Maurier’s plot.
Unlike recent drama Lady Macbeth, the poison brewing within the narrative is not hinted at by being set within a bleak, dark setting, as it unfolds in the sunshine of Cornwall. Somewhat reminiscent of the tales of Hardy, the film explores the inevitability of fate, as we note that the characters are akin with agricultural and rural life. However, this too plays its vital part in the drama. The performances by Weisz and Claflin are central to the success of this adaptation, as they both create conceivably dramatic yet realistic characters with all degrees of complexities that leave you second-guessing the depth of her as an enigma. However, there are short moments on screen where the dialogue sounds clunky, and this unfortunately affects these brilliant performances.
Cinematically there are mere instants where on the big screen the lighting is overexposed but other than that, is beautifully breathtaking. The score by Rael Jones, with rich woodwind, melodramatic strings and jingling piano motifs, effectively underpins the drama, with little in distraction. What is integral, and what makes Michell’s adaptation is the acting, which makes this seductively dissident romance eye-catching, captivating. The psychological developments mixed with post-Freudian kicks certainly rounds this film off. Another great film to add to the CV, with very little flaws.
My Cousin Rachel runs at The Filmhouse, Edinburgh until 21st June.