Saturday, June 24, 2017

Movie: My Cousin Rachel

My Cousin Rachel: a gothic drama based upon the Daphne Du Maurier novel of the same name.  The story  takes place in the 1830’s primarily on a estate in Cornwall.  The principal male character is Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin), who was orphaned as a child and raised by his older cousin, Ambrose Ashley (also played by Claflin).  A key to the unfolding story is that Philip is raised without the significant presence of any women.  Following a brief foray into the characters’ background, we meet Philip as a man in his early 20’s.  We learn that he is entitled to receive his inheritance on his 25th birthday.  Due to health concerns, guardian/cousin Ambrose is residing in sunny Italy.   Through Ambrose’s letters to Philip, we are introduced to Rachel (Rachel Weisz), whom Ambrose has met in Italy, and learn that Ambrose and Rachel have married.  After the marriage occurs Ambrose’s correspondence with regards to Rachel turns dark.  Ambrose summons Philip to Italy, however, by the time Philip arrives, Ambrose is dead.  The Italian lawyer advises Philip that Rachel has left the villa and given the lawyer instructions to liquidate the Italian assets.  Philip, in anger, returns to Cornwall.  Then Rachel arrives.  The film hints that Rachel is a “Black Widow” but, as the tale unfolds, ambiguity takes center stage.  Almost upon first sight, Philip’s anger towards Rachel melts as he falls in love with her.  Rachel’s feelings are far more complex.  There are other people at Cornwall – house and field servants - but they are clearly secondary characters.  The cinematography is outstanding and brought to mind another British period drama, Barry Lyndon.  The directorial talent of Robert Michell, Weisz’s excellent performance and the spectacular camera shots make this 106 minute film worth seeing.  The degree to which you enjoy the film will depend, I think, on your reaction to Philip.  Personally, I could not relate to him.  He is an upper class man-child of 1830’s England whose world and lifestyle is totally foreign to  present day sensibilities.   While I understand that Philip is smitten by Rachel, it is hard to empathize with his behavior.  I note that my comments are shared in the context of Weisz dominating every scene in which she appears.  It is admittedly a bit early in the year, but Weisz’s performance is definitely Oscar worthy.  In fact, both Weisz and the film’s cinematographer are deserving of nominations.  This version of My Cousin Rachel is a remake of the 1952 movie starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton who, I understand, played Philip with a touch of madness.  I’ve not seen the 1952 film, but seeing a deeper, more complex version of Philip would have elevated this film’s rating to four stars. 


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