I didn’t know much about this going in but the cast, especially Rachel Weisz is hard to pass up.
Synopsis: A dark and layered romance, MY COUSIN RACHEL tells the story of a young Englishman who plots revenge against his mysterious and beautiful cousin, believing that she murdered his guardian. His feelings become complicated as he finds himself falling helplessly and obsessively in love with her. (Fox Searchlight)
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, and Iain Glen
Writer: Roger Michell
Director: Roger Michell
Running Time: 106mins
Period pieces are not always period, this one fit the bill but it also featured themes that are relevant today to keep viewers engaged. Themes such as revenge, infatuation, and jealousy all lay at the root of the story involving a young orphan man named Philip (Claflin) who devises a revenge plot against his mysterious cousin Rachel (Weisz), believing that she killed his closest guardian although when she comes into Philip’s life, things do not go according to plan when he begins to fall for her.
As one would expect, the film sets Rachel up as a mysterious black-widow, gold digger type and what works about this was that we don’t get to see her until well into the film so we get a pretty good impression of her once she appears. Once she does, the question of whether or not she was actually responsible for Philip’s guardian’s death lingered over the rest of the film, however, a case can be made either way as the film went along. Rachel was a very beautiful, charming, and conniving woman who uses her talents to her advantage in seducing powerful men.
Wanting revenge was understandable but so was Philip falling for Rachel. Philip was already vulnerable by not ever having a woman in his life so her inclusion proved to be a major temptation for him. Ultimately, falling for her many charms, their relationship became much more when he began to have romantic feelings for her. Meanwhile, his godfather Nick (Glen) and his daughter Louise (Holliday Grainger) saw Rachel for who she was.
Despite Nick and Louise’s many warnings, Philip refused to acknowledge what Rachel was doing and was under her control. Philip’s need of female connection felt genuine but he occasionally took his infatuation with Rachel a little too far. He definitely went through a complete range of emotions here as he desperately clinged to their relationship even though the feeling may not have been mutual. This trajectory lost some of its impact due to their relationship feeling one-sided at times and also a lack of character development of Rachel and Philip with only some opening narration and exposition to go on.
This was a beautiful film with great shots of the Italian countryside, feeling like a different world at times and the use of light and darkness, paired with the mood-setting score, elevated the mystery aspect of the story. We don’t know for sure whether Rachel is guilty and over time, the film does go both ways in that regard but it decides to leave this open-ended so we never learn the truth. The story is also told out of order, bookended by Philip’s inner narration, which didn’t make sense, looking at the rest of the film.
The acting was the best part of the film with Weisz and Claflin being the obvious standouts. Weisz was excellent as the devious Rachel, playing both sides of her with ease. She is one of those characters whose motivations seem fairly clear but is difficult to hate because Weisz is so likable and compelling to watch. Claflin was even better and given more to do as Philip, as mentioned, going through a genuine range of emotions over the course of his relationship with Rachel. The drama may not have been consistently there but their chemistry made up for it.
Overall, this was a beautiful, suspenseful character drama that could have gone further with the drama but is saved by excellent performances by Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin.
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