My Cousin Rachel

Adapted by director Roger Michell from the novel by Daphne du Maurier, there are plenty of moody shots of Cornwall and the beaches and fields of England. But they feel decorous, rather than a commentary on the storms raging within the characters.

We’re talking about Rachel Weisz’s Rachel, a mature woman returned from Tuscany after the death of her husband. Having received several mysterious letters from the dead man, his adopted uncle, Sam Claflin’s puppyish Philip suspects that this woman has actually bumped off his relative.

However, as soon as he sees this beautiful widow, Philip is in trouble. In thrall to her charms, he embarks on a spiral of destructive behaviour that involves giving away all his land to this wanton woman.

No one can quite understand why, including Iain Glenn as his guardian, Simon Russell Beale as the family lawyer or Holliday Grainger as Alice, who’s always rather fancied herself as Philip’s wife.

Trouble is, I couldn’t get it either. The haunting, head-whirling passion just doesn’t come across. Weisz holds back on the seductress front, which leaves us with some mystery, but never really energises the tired old period fittings of horses and harpsichords, boots and britches.

Du Maurier’s signature psychology gets lost in a bid to be both faithful to the book and yet remain decorous to the dullness of British period cinema. You long for some streak of modernity, like the recent Lady Macbeth had. Even Carey Mulligan’s Far From The Madding Crowd had a bit more feminist bite to it.

So we get a safe film about dangerous obsession, which is extremely frustrating. Nothing’s bad here (actually, I found the score highly irritating) and Weisz and Claflin are fine,  but there’s little to get steamed up about either.

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