My Cousin Rachel (3 stars)

My Cousin Rachel

Handsome but hurried adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier classic, starring Rachel Weisz

An aloof young gentleman finds himself bewitched, bothered and bewildered in this handsomely mounted but hastily relayed adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's superb psychological thriller – its warped romance offering a stark warning to all who dare to fall in love. Rachel Weisz is a fine choice for the eponymous enigma, while Sam Claflin is superb as her heedless admirer Philip.

When his beloved guardian Ambrose dies in mysterious circumstances abroad, Philip (Claflin) inherits his estate. However, no provision has been made for Ambrose's widow, their half-Italian cousin Rachel (Weisz); and, when she arrives in England, the reaction she provokes proves very unsettling indeed.

Philip is determined to dislike Rachel and has every reason to suspect her, but her wicked wit, easy charm and ravishing beauty blows through the dusty, neglected environs like an exotic breeze, banishing the cobwebs and awakening his heart. 'How easy it must be for a woman like your cousin Rachel to twist you round her little finger,' remarks Philip's observant friend Louise (Holliday Grainger), the daughter of his godfather (Iain Glen), who herself had designs on the bachelor. But is Rachel the spider woman she seems?

Writer-director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Venus) is an odd choice for the dark material and it's no surprise that the suspense here is lacking. Yet cinematographer Mike Eley (who shot The Selfish Giant) forgoes the corset-like constraints of conventional period drama; the film has a fluid and psychologically penetrating feel, reframing the central dynamic as a shifting power play. It's an interesting angle – one perhaps inspired by Nicolas Roeg's peerless work on Far from the Madding Crowd – that draws out the complexity of their opening encounter, as Philip goes on the defensive only to be unexpectedly bowled over. There's some striking imagery too, most memorably a gloved hand snaking its fingers through hair.

Mildly racy embellishments are incorporated surprisingly effectively but the alterations to the ending jar. And, if Michell retains many of the book's best lines, the whole enterprise feels desperately abbreviated; Philip goes too quickly from vengeful misanthrope to love-struck fool (the film even resorts to a getting-to-know-you montage). Events unfold with some artistry, just not nearly enough patience.

General release from Fri 9 Jun.

My Cousin Rachel

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • UK / US
  • 1h 46min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Roger Michell
  • Cast: Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz, Holliday Grainger

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. Weisz is a fine choice for the eponymous enigma, while Claflin is superb as her heedless admirer…