KISSING COUSINS or FAMILY FOE?
Maybe “My Cousin Rachel” is a classic case of the movie just not being as good as the book, or maybe it’s just not as good as it could be and should be on its own. Either way it was a bit of a disappointment. It falls short for someone going in with high expectations for sinking into a movie with sweeping views, soaring vistas, creaky mansions and deeply disturbing and complex characters, with a mystery slowly unfolding. Although Rachel Weisz, as always, is perfection as the title character and her supporting cast is adequate, it’s not enough to elevate this little-known, classic Daphane Du Maurier novel from prose to cinematic big screen.
When Phillip, a young 20-something-year-old who lives in the English countryside anxiously awaits the return of his uncle/guardian from Italy, he is devastated to learn of his mysterious death. The tragedy came on the heels of his marriage to their cousin Rachel. Piecing together messages from his uncle, Phillip becomes convinced Rachel was the cause of his uncle’s death and soon plots his revenge for when Rachel comes to visit. What he is unprepared for is how beautiful Rachel is and what a seemingly warm, captivating personality she has. This makes him do a 180 degree turn on his suspicions. He quickly, maybe too quickly, goes from hatred to love to Rachel becoming the object of Phillip’s obsession.
Meanwhile the mourning widow asserts her innocence and independence like no other woman of her time. She claims she does not want any of her deceased husband’s money, yet she knows Phillip is smitten and ready to turn it over. The looming questions persist - did she or did she not kill her husband for the estate? Is she genuine in her befriending Phillip, or secretly seducing him to legitimately garner the entire estate? Is she a feminist ahead of her time, or a needy greedy “femme fatale” looking for a big paycheck?
The movie, like the book, should make the audience constantly wonder and cringe with anticipation. While it succeeds in never really answering any questions and leaving you to wonder did she or didn't she, it does not convincingly build suspense, spook or seduce. All aspects of the characters and mystery feel sped up instead of languid, alluring and unfolding. Unlike other gothic classics adapted to the big screen, such as “Jane Eyre” or “Rebecca,” “My Cousin Rachel” by writer-director Roger Michell only mildly mystifies and intrigues making a good enough pick for a quiet night in on the couch, but not full price at the theater.