A period piece with modernistic romantic intrigue, “My Cousin Rachel” pokes and prods at paranoia and false notions of love. This is a movie that builds to a resounding climax and reveal that never quite happens. But it’s in those stepping stones to that climax, where characters look under the gravel and unearth he truth behind their actions and emotions, that “My Cousin Rachel” reaches its highest levels of entertainment.
The film follows Philip, a 25-year-old man who is set to inherit his wealthy family’s estate in England. Philip was an orphan who was taken in under the wing of his cousin, lacking a regular matriarch or maternal figure in his home. But Philip becomes enticed by Rachel, a lively, poised woman who married Philip’s cousin shortly before his death. Philip battles his growing affection for Rachel along with his unyielding distrust about her motivations and actions.
It’s a “Fatal Attraction”-esque thriller with more bayonets and less bunnies. Sam Claflin is great as Philip, echoing the sort of faux confidence a soon-to-be wealthy, 25-year-old would have. His backstory is spelled out for us from the opening frame, but we still find ourselves intrigued by Philip’s actions, often feeling sorry for him but never looking down on him.
Rachel Weisz, though, is the true gem of the movie as Rachel. She’s a woman who feels slightly possessed, an enchantress of mind and soul, easy to talk to but hard to win over. “My Cousin Rachel” was released before “Phantom Thread,” but Weisz conjures that similar, eerie romantic gloom that Vicky Krieps did in her Oscar-nominated film. Weisz crafts Rachel into a wholly believable character, a woman whom our parents would be angry we brought home for dinner, mainly because they didn’t meet Rachel first before marrying each other.
“My Cousin Rachel” is stunning on a visual level, with each shot hearkening back memories of an England hundreds of years ago. This was a movie made with care and devotion by writer and director Roger Michell. It’s plot sometimes falls through the cracks, but faces, squints and glances point us in the proper direction home.