My Cousin Rachel (2017) Review
My Cousin Rachel is directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Changing Lanes) and stars Rachel Weisz (The Mummy, Constantine) and Sam Claflin (Me Before You, The Hunger Games). "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". Released in the midst of summer blockbusters, can a small period drama like My Cousin Rachel shine?
I feared My Cousin Rachel would be a slow-paced, dull period piece that I would not enjoy. Alas my fears came true as that is exactly what I got from this film. Undoubtedly, this is a well made film - alluring cinematography and pretty impressive performances are definitely redeemable qualities. The biggest problems lie in the story and pacing so I guess it's the director and writer, Roger Michell who is to blame for this uninspired, lifeless and forgettable feature.
What really bothered me about the story/script was how the film circled back to its opening lines 'Did she? Didn't she? Who was to blame?'. These questions are still left unanswered at the end of the film - I guess it's to leave the plot open for interpretation and to instigate a discussion amongst moviegoers as they head home but it was just incredibly unsatisfying. I was waiting the whole time for the truth to be revealed and it never was. I have a good idea of what happened but nothing was confirmed which made the whole ending very confusing, but not in a good way. The ending of a film often influences how you feel about the film as a whole and My Cousin Rachel's unfulfilling ending really had me thinking that I had wasted 110 minutes of my life.
For the next part of this review, I'm going to break down the story by answering the film's three questions that is doesn't answer:
Yes, I strongly believe that Rachel was up to no good. There was clear evidence that she was poisoning both Philip and Ambrose. Rachel was just trying to get closer to their wealth and this was all part of a masterful plan. The fact that she was overdrawn by a large amount suggested she was up to no good - sending all her money to (likely) different back accounts in different countries. It was also odd how Rachel suddenly decided not to marry Philip as soon as you found the hole in the agreement that it meant she would lose ownership of everything.
In defence of Rachel, there were the letters that falsified many of Philip's suspicions - the man who he dislikes turns out to be gay and not Rachel's romantic love interest. However, it was never completely clear as to why he was in the area. There was definitely a plan in place. The evidence against Rachel definitely outbalances the evidence for her.
Who is to blame?
They both are. Of course, Rachel is mostly to blame as she was the one who had sly plans but Philip is definitely not innocent. Philip invited her over and was manipulated by her. If he stood by his initial thoughts on Rachel, none of this would have happened.
I don't think the film did a great job of outlining these arguments, it's all for the audiences interpretation. However, unlike a film like Eye in the Sky, it wasn't really that thought-provoking and the film didn't do a good enough job of developing their relationship or either character for the audience to care that much. Why try and put loads of thought into the 'mystery' when it just seems like the filmmakers couldn't be bothered to? A reveal that wrapped everything up would have easily solved this and I may have came away feeling slightly more positive. The story was very slow and many scenes were very uninteresting. Exciting is the opposite of what this film is. I would actually compare it to The Light Between Oceans - another slow drama that had a potentially exciting premises but sucked all the excitement out of it.
This definitely isn't a film that is aimed at someone like me - I could see older women really enjoying it. It absolutely has similarities to a Jane Austen adaption. Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin could actually become 2017s versions of Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen (Pride and Prejudice). The production design and costumes are very well done. The cinematography is often creative and always pretty to look at. Many shots in the film could easily be transformed into paintings that are hung in grand houses.
The performances in the film definitely help My Cousin Rachel to be watchable - Rachel Weisz's performance is nuanced and understated. It wasn't an incredibly memorable performance and she didn't really heighten the mystery around the character but she did a nice job and carried the film well. Sam Claflin plays Philip and the film is told from his perspective - even though Claflin is outshone by Weisz, he does a nice job - he had some weaker moments but it was a generally solid performance. As for the two, I didn't really sense or believe the chemistry between the two actors - I think that is mostly down to the script which takes its time with every aspect in the story except for the romance - there is no development and the romance was never built, the emotions of the characters suddenly went from hating each other to loving each other - I was never fully convinced by the romance.
My Cousin Rachel is just what you would expect it to be like - a period romance that is rather dull and lifeless and really lacks an electrifying romance at its core. It was a mistake for Roger Michell to direct and write this film - possibly if he had just chose to do one, someone else would have been there to correct his mistakes. The film is undeniably beautifully shot and well made. Rachel Weisz does a good job and does her best with the lacklustre material. The story is slow paced and the mysterious just isn't that mysterious. This film could have been so much more and had the potential to be an awards contender. However, My Cousin Rachel is that small, summer release that's going to be completely forgotten once the summer is through.