Roger Michell’s adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier novel, though not the visually splendid gothic sexual horror that many were hoping for from the trailers, is a deft handling of narrative.
My Cousin Rachel is about Philip (Sam Claflin), a young landowner in Cornwall, struggling with suspicion and infatuation after his cousin’s enigmatic widow (Rachel Weisz) arrives following his sudden death and a series of strange letters incriminating her.
It’s a sparse plot. Most of the film’s action concerns the shifting power dynamic between the two leads. Everything we are ignorant of is constantly apparent.
But I think the fine line where the audience can never settle on anything – trust or suspicion, ignorance or discovery of the truth, sympathy for either Philip or Rachel – is pretty much perfectly walked.
We know Philip’s suspicions are fed by his ignorance and prejudice; we know his later infatuation and trust is fed by that same ignorance. But everything is just convincing enough that we can’t dismiss our questions.
The scenes between Weisz and Claflin in which one word or sentence upsets the power balance are unsettling and fascinating and cold. For this adaptation’s sun-bleached world and tone, they were fantastic casting. It’s the scene in which her domination is settled decisively that stuck with me: condescendingly describing him as her puppy and repeating his love-struck words back at him in a maternal tone – “You belong here.”
This adaptation found a method of translating Du Maurier’s mystery to the screen, and it works. The film refuses to give us answers, but it gives us just enough rope to hang ourselves from one or another assumption. Even at the characteristically abrupt Du Maurier ending, you’re not left dissatisfied.