Daphne du Maurier is a big name in the history of Cinema.; if not under her own name, then as part of Alfred Hitchcock’s legend. Her novels were adapted by Hitchcock to give us some of the finest examples of film, Rebecca and The Birds to name but a few. Other directors have attempted to bring du Maurier to the big screen, like Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. After a long hiatus, Roger Michell directs a new adaptation of du Maurier’s 1951 novel My Cousin Rachel, with Rachel Weisz in the title role. So does My Cousin Rachel join the other classic adaptations or will it be better off left in the past?
Adapted from Daphne Du Maurier’s 1951 novel of the same name, My Cousin Rachel tells the story of Philip, an orphan and adopted son of Ambrose Ashely. His life on the Cornish coast is disrupted when he receives a letter from Ambrose hinting that his new wife is poisoning him. Philip quickly rushes to him only to come too late. He then finds out that Rachel plans to visit Cornwall and he then plans to accuse her of murder. However when coming face to face with the lady, Philip becomes infatuated and his grip on reality starts to slip.
My Cousin Rachel is a sumptuous looking film, full of deep rich colour tones and impeccable framing. It is almost like an oil painting and there were points when I was watching the film I thought that that would make a great computer wallpaper. Cinematographer Mike Eley has done a stellar job creating a dark air of mystery that perfectly captures the tone of the story.
Speaking of, the plot is the perfect blend of tense thriller and pot-boiling melodrama, a wicked mix of subtlety and extravagance; a mix that the actors in the film balance incredibly well. Sam Claflin of Hunger Games fame, as Philip, is at times sympathetic and at times monstrous but incredibly watchable all the time and Holliday Grainger is poised and resolute as Louise Kendall, Phillips other love interest.
But it is Rachel Weisz as Rachel Ashley that is the main draw. She creates a performance that always leaves you guessing whether Ambrose’s allegations are true and it is utterly spellbinding. What is interesting is that when the final twist is unveiled, I felt incredibly guilty. The film and Weisz have constructed a character that is entierly unreadable, until the very end, and then the meaning crashes on you like a ton of bricks.
Like most other adaptations of du Maurier, the film is more than its plot. As already mentioned the final twist allows the film to shed light onto modern gender issues. Rachel is a particularly modern woman in a period film, but as a modern viewer the film uncovers some archaic attitudes to women and their position in society. It had me thinking about the film long after it was over, just like a great film should.
My Cousin Rachel, is a film of quality, a period adaptation of a big name in literature. Though despite this it is one of the best things out in cinemas at the moment. It is an intelligent and modern film disguised as a melodrama that is incredibly clever in the way that it is able to make an audience member think about the action taking place on screen with ease. If you want some solid performances and a mystery plot that is deceptively simple then My Cousin Rachel is the film for you.