Rachel Weisz can do no wrong
A young Englishman plots revenge against his mysterious, beautiful cousin, believing that she murdered his guardian. But his feelings become complicated as he finds himself falling under the beguiling spell of her charms. Starring Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, and Holliday Grainger
AFTER 25 years as an actor and with an Oscar to her name, it’s pretty clear there’s not much Rachel Weisz can’t do.
Whether she’s running away from mummies or swaying to music in the middle of the forest while donning a poncho, Weisz has proven time and time again that she’s one of the most alluring and accomplished actors of her generation.
She’s never obvious and always considered.
She’s also the perfect choice to bring to life a woman as complex and inscrutable as Daphne du Maurier’s title character in My Cousin Rachel, last adapted 65 years ago with screen legend Olivia de Havilland in the same role.
Set in 19th century England, My Cousin Rachel is told from the perspective of Philip Ashley, a young man who was orphaned as a child and raised by his wealthy cousin, Ambrose.
Ambrose is a sickly fellow and following doctor’s orders, he takes off to warmer climes to Italy and away from the blistering Cornish coast.
At first, Philip receives gushing letters from Ambrose about the charming Rachel who he’s just married. But Ambrose’s letters become increasingly strange, imploring Philip to come to Italy to save him from Rachel.
By the time Philip arrives in Tuscany, Ambrose is dead, ostensibly from a brain tumour, and Rachel is gone, having made no claims on her deceased husband’s considerable estate. Philip vows revenge on the woman he’s convinced killed Ambrose and returns to the UK.
Not long after his return to Cornwall, Rachel turns up at now-Philip’s estate. But instead of his intentions to scorn and snub her, Philip is immediately enchanted by her beauty, grace and warmth.
Those around him, including his godfather, believe Rachel may be manipulating Philip and passes on gossip about her lavish, reckless ways and her sexual “appetite”. Soon, Philip is conflicted over whether Rachel is genuine in her affections or if she’s a temptress out for fortune.
My Cousin Rachel is set in a time and place where there was a very distinct idea of a woman’s place, and a lot of paranoia over the social ills an independent woman would bring. Rachel, as a character, represents all that fear.
And there is a definite feminist reading to be gained from Roger Michell’s (Notting Hill, Le Week-End) My Cousin Rachel. The director positions Rachel as someone who could be sympathetic or someone who could be nefarious — you’re never sure until the last moments and that very uncertainty makes the audience culpable in how women are judged.
The paranoia is boosted by a moody score by Rael Jones, generous use of “candlelight”, portentous winds blowing through the dusty estate and copious shots of various weapons.
But more than the technical elements, the credit really has to go to Weisz, whose command of her character just out of reach but fully formed is awe-inspiring — she’s vivacious and vulnerable, strong and shaken.
Philip is portrayed commendably by Sam Clafin (Hunger Games), though he is sometimes prone to dramatics not necessarily justified purely by his character’s age and impetuous nature.
My Cousin Rachel is a solid period thriller but it really is Weisz’s performance that drives the film home.
My Cousin Rachel is in cinemas from today.
Continue the conversation on Twitter with @wenleima.