Fox Searchlight 1 hour 46 minutes PG 13 Reviewed June 8, 2017
Did she or didn’t she? This is not the first film version of English Gothic romance novelist, Daphne Du Maurier’s “My Cousin Rachel” which was written in 1951, starring Olivia De Havilland and Richard Burton. Du Maurier was already famous for “Rebecca,” which Alfred Hitchcock turned into a classic.
This film is described as a drama/romance, but it’s more than that. It’s an ambiguous mystery that will leave you guessing who dunnit. Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games,The Huntsman) plays Philip. He is the orphaned cousin who was taken in as a child by his Uncle Ambrose, a wealthy landowner and loving guardian. When Uncle’s health goes south, he does the same and goes to Italy. He stays longer than anticipated and writes letters to his nephew saying he has married Rachel who is taking care of him. But his health keeps getting worse and the symptoms are curious.
Enter Rachel. Rachel Weisz is now his step-Aunt. She is an interesting woman who is beautiful, kind and gracious. Philip and she spend time together as Philip is trying to find out what happened to his Uncle. He suspects something is awry and devises a plan to see if Rachel is on the up and up. But as he gets to know her, he becomes captivated himself, but still curious about her motives.
In the meantime, Ambrose’s lawyer and family friend, Nick Kendall played by Iain Glen, is trying to help Philip manage his uncle’s will and estate. Nick’s daughter Louise (Holliday Grainger, The Finest Hours) and Philip are close friends and it appears that Louise would like it to be more than that. But she becomes a confident of Philip’s trying to help him figure out if Rachel killed his uncle.
It’s complicated, but the acting is remarkable. Rachel Weisz can change the mood with a glance. No wonder Philip finds her captivating. Is she sweet and loving, or does she have a plan for Philip? Is she trying to get Philip for herself? Did she or didn’t she? You’ll wonder as she starts pushing the magic herbal tea potion she made for Uncle Ambrose into Philip. “Drink up my dear.” He doesn’t react to it well. Claflin does an excellent job playing joyful, then confused, upset, crazy, sick, suspicious and more. Weisz has already proven her acting chops and this film is no exception.
The landscapes of the manor in which they lived and the countryside are like paintings. The crane work expanding the view is well done. But it would be hard to mess up that natural scenery. They shot in Arezzo, Italy. Seeing Rachel and Philip ride horses at the edge of cliffs that drop to the sea is picturesque.
And there is so much detail in the house as well as in their wardrobe. Every piece has a reason for being there, from the books to the number of candles throwing ambient light in every room, to the exquisite pearl necklace that figures in the plot. Plus there are handwritten notes and letters that pop up to help move the story. Wonder if handwriting analysis would have helped them discover anything. Every scene that has a clue or change in attitude is accompanied by ominous piano notes. You know something is up as Rachel and Philip throw out more possible clues and their relationship becomes more entangled.
If you like mysterious period romances, this film is for you. Personally, I think someone close to Philip was also involved to create the shocking surprise at the end. Did she or didn’t she? But who really is she?