My Cousin Rachel – Film Review
Director: Roger Michell
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Sam Clafin, Iain Glen
by Karl Hornsey
Several Daphne du Maurier novels and short stories have made successful transformations from the page to the big screen, including The Scapegoat, Don’t Look Now and the Hitchcock trio Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and The Birds, albeit with some excessive changes on behalf of the director in the latter three.
One slightly lesser-known adaptation was the 1952 version of My Cousin Rachel, a typically intense psychological slow-burner set in the rolling Cornwall countryside of the 1800s. That film starred Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland and is a faithful adaptation, maintaining a suitable level of suspense and intrigue throughout.
The current release, starring Sam Claflin and Rachel Weisz in those roles, is anything but. I could cut to the chase and dispense with a full review by using just one word – dull. If ever the word was appropriate for a film, this is the occasion.
With all such period dramas one expects a certain amount of slow build-up, gradually introducing and explaining characters and place. So far, so standard in this case. However, whereas the novel and the original film lure one in with finely crafted intrigue, maintaining a tension throughout, the new film lacks the depth or the script to make one feel anything about either of the leads, neither of whom are particularly impressive either.
The plot effectively is not so much a whodunit as a ‘didshedoitornot’, but by the hour mark I honestly couldn’t care less whether she is did ‘it’ or not.
Claflin isn’t anything like a strong or brooding enough presence to carry the lead male role and even the now obligatory Poldark-style shirt removal moment is something of a damp squib by comparison.
Weisz, for her part, fails to provide any evidence of being a femme fatale possessing the charisma worthy of falling madly in love with. The lack of a relevant or menacing score is another missed opportunity and only the occasional appearance of the ever-reliable Iain Glen is of any comfort.
There’s a point about 80 minutes in when it suddenly dawns that nothing, almost literally nothing has happened, either physically or psychologically, and time is running out for it to do so.
Without revealing the ending, although in fairness it seemed as though director Roger Michell decided not to bother with an ending himself, the abruptness of it is quite remarkable. No build-up, no tension, no nothing. And with that, the film is over, which was something of a relief, but made me wonder what the point of the remake was. Whether to cash on on the aforementioned Poldark Factor and the delight in all things period drama, or simply to churn out another film without having to give it all that much thought.
In which case, don’t bother with this one – just get yourself a copy of the original and watch that. Or better still, read the book and let your imagination combine with du Maurier’s to make you care about what’s going on. That scenario works a treat.