Roger Michell has a track record in making rather ambiguous slippery stories of obsession, and after his superb ENDURING LOVE, returns to our screens with an equally ambitious if rather less successful costume thriller based on a book by Daphne Du Maurier. The story centres on the relationship between three cousins. The elder man adopts his younger male cousin Philip after Philip's parents die. They live a pleasant bachelor live in Cornwall for many years. We pick up the story when Philip (Sam Claflin) is a young man, and his elderly adoptive father has gone to Florence for his health. There he makes an improbably marriage to their mutual cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz). This romance is communicated by letters back to Cornwall which Philip dutifully reads out to his godfather Kendall (Iain Glen) and his daughter (Holliday Grainger), for whom Philip seems to be intended. But romance turns to suspicions - with the elder cousin claiming that his young wife has poisoned him for his fortune. Philip is thus set up to hate his cousin on site, but find's himself charmed by her beauty. Indeed, realising that she has been disinherited, he even takes pity on her financial situation and makes rather a fool of himself. This comes against the advice of all involved. Meanwhile the central question for the audience is whether everyone's else's suspicions of Rachel are warranted, or whether she is a maligned woman.
As with REBECCA, the more famous of Du Maurier's novels to be adapted to the screen, the central mystery is around an enigmatic, beautiful, perhaps dastardly woman. And while Michell cannot withhold Rachel from us forever, he does a good job of delaying her entrance to the film. Rachel Weisz is also perfectly cast as someone who is both beautiful and communicates intelligence on screen. I also rather liked Holliday Grainger as the altogether practical spurned young woman. But the problem with the film really lies in the source material - Philip is a far less charismatic and intriguing character than Max de Winter. Indeed, he is rather unlikeably spoiled and petulant. Accordingly, even as we judge Rachel, it's hard not to resent his presence both in her life and in the film. It's a flaw that I'm not sure the film ever really recovers from.
Thus the choice of source material is a fatal flaw, and perhaps the casting of Sam Claflin. Which is a shame because Roger Michell really does great work in liberating the piece from the banal typical camerawork of a costume drama, with absolutely superb framing and dynamic camerawork.
MY COUSIN RACHEL has a running time of 106 minutes and is rated PG-13. It is currently on release in the UK and Ireland.