Although I haven’t reviewed a movie that is based on a book since Wild (directed by Jean-Marc Vallée) came out in 2014, I plan to explore book/film projects more often in 2020. After reading and enjoying My Cousin Rachel, I headed to the library to check out the 2017 film version, directed by Roger Michell (best known for directing Notting Hill in 1995).
For my thoughts on Daphne du Maurier’s novel My Cousin Rachel, click the book title.
Philip Ashley is played by Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games series, Me Before You). He looks the part, with a boyishly charming face, but loads of passion in his eyes. Rachel Weisz (The Favourite, Constantine, The Mummy series) plays Rachel, recently widowed upon the death of Philip’s cousin. She typically plays serious, thoughtful, rational women, so makes an excellent choice. Weisz looks older in a good way (Philip is 24 and Rachel is 35), which I don’t typically expect Hollywood to get right, what with their desire to portray women as young and sexually available. The casting seemed right, with people looking appropriate for their part (plain faces, no hiding wrinkles, everything appearing correct for the person’s station). And, both leads were English-born (from England!) in a movie set . . . in England! While many actors can pull off a convincing accent, if I know that’s not how they normally sound, I find them distracting (I’m looking at you, Daniel Craig, in Knives Out). Rainaldi was the only character whose accent fails.
The setting was also fitting. Sometimes I wonder if movies set pre-electricity still look a bit too sparkly for folks without vacuums, folks who are making every piece of furniture and clothing by hand. Household items in the Ashley house look appropriately hand-made, just the slightest bit worn after years of use by two bachelors who didn’t believe in cleaning but who had loads of money. Director Michell captures the countryside on a few outdoor shots of Philip riding along the cliffs, so the sense of place is established.
However, someone (okay, it was Roger Michell) screwed with the script. While he most key plot points in du Maurier’s carefully crafted novel, he cuts all the moments in between that hold the story together emotionally, causing me to feel like we were galloping through the book’s plot. I didn’t feel Philip’s slow building respect, admiration, and then love for Rachel like I did in the novel, which may be why Michell added in two sex scenes that likely were short cuts to imply love, but came off as icky. The physical distance between Philip and Rachel in the novel is obvious to the reader (until that one fateful night, that is), but Weisz’s character plants several not-very-maternal kisses on Philip’s lips throughout the film.
As the story rolled along, I felt deeply that Michell gave characters much clearer directions than du Maurier — to the story’s detriment. Louise, Philip’s lifelong friend and girl-next-door, no longer seems like a concerned chum, but someone stirring the pot to make Philip ditch Rachel so Louise’s future won’t be left in the dust. More moments are given to suggesting that Rainaldi is duplicitous, trying to steal Rachel away, only to have the script clear everything up neatly in the end. Basically, instead of letting viewers debate who to trust and what happened, Michell decides for us. His half-attempt at leaving some mystery at the conclusion, as Philip rides along in his carriage, fails to reignite the doubt du Maurier was able to instill in readers from beginning to end, doubt that extended to both Philip and Rachel.
There are other screen versions of My Cousin Rachel, including a 1983 mini-series and Henry Koster’s 1952 version starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton. Perhaps Koster’s movie is more faithful to the source material?