Did she? Didn’t she? Who’s to blame?
These are the key questions animating director Roger Michell’s My Cousin Rachel, and they are, by design, nearly as opaque at the film’s conclusion as they are at the start. Based on the 1951 novel by Daphne du Maurier, the romantic thriller is a nicely crafted work. It features strong performances—in particular by Rachel Weisz—sumptuous cinematography, and some truly glorious landscape. But while it is a diverting and intermittently rewarding film, it is also, ultimately, a disappointing one.
Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin, from the Hunger Games series) is the orphaned heir to a sprawling country estate in Cornwall, where he lives with his older cousin and guardian, Ambrose. Summering in Florence, Ambrose meets another cousin, Rachel—the exact relations are imprecise, with nearly everyone in the story seeming to be cousin to everyone else—falls in love, and marries her. Soon, however, he is taken ill, grows suspicious that Rachel is poisoning him, and begs Philip to come to his rescue. But by the time Philip arrives in Florence, Ambrose is dead and Rachel has disappeared. Philip is convinced that she has killed his beloved guardian.
Returning home, Philip is told by his godfather (Iain Glen), who controls the estate until Philip comes of age, that Ambrose never rewrote his will after marrying Rachel: It will all still accrue to Philip when he turns 25 in a short while. Who should then show up at the door but Rachel herself (Weisz). Philip invites her to stay, with the thought that he will outwit her, force her to confess her crime, and have his revenge.