Monday, June 19, 2017

My Cousin Rachel

Not that I need more books on my to-read shelf, but this film was, if nothing else, good enough to convince me that I should probably have read more Du Maurier. Anybody have favorites? I'd probably like to start outside the ones that have been made into movies (like I did with Chandler).

My Cousin Rachel

* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 June 2017 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

As soon as I'm done doing the same thing with Raymond Chandler, I should start working through the novels of Daphne Du Maurier, and for much the same reason - there have been enough absolutely fantastic movies made from them to make a deep dive worth it. This version of My Cousin Rachel may not be in the absolute top echelon - Hitchcock adapted three of her works, after all - but it's a strong period thriller with an especially impressive performance by Rachel Weisz as the title character.

She is not the main character, though; that is Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin). Orphaned at a young age and raised by Ambrose, a bachelor cousin, he took easily to country life. In recent years, his guardian fell ill and moved to Italy for his health, soon marrying a more distant cousin. His last letter home indicated he was a virtual prisoner of wife Rachel, and by the time Philip makes it to Milan to investigate, Ambrose has died. The local coroner says the brain tumor that took him often causes paranoia and hallucination, but it's suspicious how quickly Rachel cleared out when the will revealed that Philip was the sole heir. Philip is indisposed to view her favorably before she arrives at her late husband's estate, but instead finds himself quite taken with the beautiful, worldly widow (Weisz). Maybe all that talk of her poisoning him really was just the tumor talking.

The Ashley estate is on the ocean, but the view of that coastline that opens the movie reminds one less of a beach or even craggy cliffs than a crater, a gaping hole blasted out of the countryside that matches up with the losses Philip has suffered and the void that growing up with a man who had no use for women could not fill. It's not that Philip has been completely sequestered from the fair sex - Louise Kendall (Holliday Grainger), daughter of his godfather (Iain Glen), is his best friend a more sensible man nineteenth-century man would probably already be married to her - but he's clearly unprepared for the likes of Rachel when she shows up. The filmmakers led by screenwriter/director Roger Michell deftly illustrate this with a few well-chosen bits of narration and some time spent around the estate that nicely serve to make Philip likable in how he works alongside the hands and retains his cousin's people rather than the stuffy servants of a young aristocrat; it's an undeniably masculine environment, functional and untidy, devoid of romantic or sexual intrigue. Michell keeps things about two steps from being slovenly-man stereotypes, leaving plenty of room for a transformation when Rachel becomes part of the scene.

Full review on EFC.

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