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Wednesday, August 16, 2017


( Rachel Weisz)

Rachel is magnificently played by Rachel Weisz. (Review: Patrick Compton - 8)

Daphne du Maurier is one of those fortunate novelists who has, relatively speaking, been blessed by film adaptations of her work.

Alfred Hitchcock’s creepy version of Rebecca and Nic Roeg’s frightening vision of Don’t Look Now immediately come to mind. And now they have been joined, a little more modestly perhaps, by director Roger Michell’s faithful albeit sneakily psychologically updated version of Du Maurier’s 1951 novel, My Cousin Rachel.

Like the novel, the movie is flooded with uncertainty. “Did she or didn’t she?” is the question that is thrown at us at the beginning of this romance/murder mystery and we exit the cinema feeling as deliciously uncertain after the dramatic climax.

The action is seen through the eyes of Philip Ashley (Sam Cliflin), a soppily handsome orphan who has been lovingly brought up in a determinedly male household by his cousin Ambrose.

When Ambrose writes home from Florence (where he is on holiday) that he has fallen in love with and married Rachel (Rachel Weisz), Ashley smells a rat. Surely a man as suspicious of women’s allures as the crusty Ambrose must have been duped? And when further letters – which are cut off by his mysterious death – suggest that Rachel may well be a poisoner, not to mention a woman of unbridled extravagance and “limitless appetites”, we are more than halfway to being convinced before we have even met her.

But, 20 minutes into the film, Du Maurier’s uncertainty principle is now activated as Rachel, magnificently played by Weisz, turns up at Ashley’s handsome Cornish home which he has inherited from his late cousin.

Instead of a grasping seductress, however, we discover a woman who has laid no claim to her late husband’s fortune and is, in fact, penniless. Ashley is, almost immediately, transformed from being a man set on revenge to a love-struck boy, or, as the novel has it: “A glorious puppy, miserable and wet-nosed, looking for its mother.”

I shall say no more about the plot, in case you haven’t read the novel, but Michell teases us delightfully as Ashley’s love for Rachel grows in intensity, much to the concern of his friends. Aside from the principals, the film’s casting has been spot on, with the likes of Holliday Grainger, Iain Glen, Pierfrancesco Favino and Simon Russell Beale all note perfect in their cameos.

The cinematography is an engaging mix of dark interiors and handsome shots of the Cornish coastline, and Rael Jones’s score is suitably dramatic.

Ultimately, however, it is Weisz who holds our attention as the camera repeatedly captures her enigmatic gaze. Is she a black widow with a “rank vixen smell”, or a woman desperately trying to hold her own in an almost exclusively male world?

My Cousin Rachel opened in Durban on August 11. – Patrick Compton