'My Cousin Rachel' questions first-person interpretation
By Diane Carson
Told entirely from Philip's point-of-view, My Cousin Rachel begins at a nineteenth century Cornwall estate in England. Philip's cousin Ambrose has rushed into marriage with Rachel and almost as quickly raced to his death. Determined to investigate the unusual circumstances perhaps involving poisoning, Philip will instead become totally infatuated with Rachel, a mysterious woman.
As Philip seeks the elusive truth, his limited, first-person perspective keeps viewers both intrigued and confounded by enigmatic details. A sufficient number of misleading events suggest betrayal, but how can Philip or we know?
Based on Daphne du Maurier's 1951 novel, the film invites associations with Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca and The Birds, both also du Maurier stories, among other films in which the protagonist questions a lover's integrity. The 1952 version of My Cousin Rachel, starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton, received four Oscar nominations, including best supporting actor for Burton (who won the Golden Globe as most promising newcomer). The acting here doesn't rise to that level, even though director Roger Michell, who also wrote the screenplay, has a talent for character driven stories, as demonstrated in his Hyde Park on Hudson (2012) and in Venus (2006). Here Sam Claflin as Philip and Rachel Weisz as Rachel maintain a restrained, but never passionate, chemistry that might have more fully energized Philip's periodic, voiceover narration.
My Cousin Rachel is an old-fashioned movie requiring viewers to shift to a slower pace to appreciate its anchored narrative. Some leisurely momentum comes from an often-moving camera reframing compositions, panning or tracking. The editing establishes a slightly more contemporary feel, never hurried but with comfortably short shots. Absent are split-second cuts within action-packed sequences. The explosions here are emotional and, while devastating, they're contained with occasionally a voice roused to anger and with one hallucinatory sequence late in the film. The music is unobtrusive but also uninspired in this cat and mouse guessing game unfolds at Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Cinema, at the Hi-Pointe Theatre, and at select Wehrenberg Theatres. Check local listings.