PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It can’t just be the coincidence of names that suggested her for the role, but My Cousin Rachel features Rachel playing Rachel.
That’s Oscar winner Rachel Weisz, 2005’s Best Supporting Actress for The Constant Gardener, in the namesake title role.
My Cousin Rachel is a handsomely shot and initially compelling romantic mystery-drama set on a large estate on England’s Cornish coast in the nineteenth century.
An impressionable young Englishman, an orphan called Philip, played by Sam Claflin, plots his revenge against his suspicious but witty and beautiful half-Italian cousin, the worldly widow played by Weisz, whom he suspects – or, rather, believes – murdered his guardian, the cousin who raised him, to whom she was married and from whom Philip has inherited his estate.
Thus does the film begins with Philip asking, “Did she? Didn’t she? Who’s to blame?”
But what confuses the issue and complicates his intentions is that, at the same time, he finds himself responding to her charms and, willy-nilly, infatuated if not obsessed with her.
What to do.
The veteran South African director, Roger Michel, has an eclectic resume that includes Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, The Mother, Venus, Morning Glory, Hyde Park on Hudson, and Le Week-End.
The script he works from is his own ambiguity-rich adaptation of the 1951 gothic novel of the same name by Daphne Du Maurier, who also wrote two books that director Alfred Hitchcock turned into indelible films – Rebecca and The Birds.
This is a remake of a 1952 version with the same title that starred Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton, the latter earning the first of his seven Oscar nominations.
This reboot starts strikingly but doesn’t build or intensify as we want it to.
Weisz is well cast in the enigmatic title role, although she’s not as can’t-take-your-eyes-off-her magnetic as everything and everyone around her would suggest.
But this film noir in period garb – which is one way to read it – is about a woman who may be manipulative in her dealings with men, but who also struggles as a second-class citizen in a man’s world.
As for Claflin, although he is sufficiently watchable, he doesn’t quite calibrate his changing feelings as expertly as the role demands, which is one of the reasons why the film’s payoff feels truncated.
That is, the first two acts point to a climactic third act that never quite materializes.
Still, let’s relate to 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for the atmospheric psychological period thriller, My Cousin Rachel, with the hard-to-read Rachel Weisz as a formidable femme fatale.