If you’ve seen a few films, chances are you’ve seen one with the black widow trope. You know, the one about a mysterious woman whose husbands keep ending up dead. My Cousin Rachel fits perfectly into that category and while the plot can sometimes feel predictable, the casting and filmmaking keep you on your toes.
Based on a 1951 novel by British author Daphne du Maurier, the film is about young Englishman Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin), who takes in the widow of his cousin and father figure. Rachel (Rachel Weisz), the young Italian-British widow, wasn’t married to Philip’s cousin long and seems unaware that before his cousin’s death, Philip received letters from him accusing Rachel of slowly poisoning him. Determined to get revenge, Philip’s plans stall when he starts to fall for Rachel himself.
Philip is certainly an unlikeable protagonist. He’s young and sullen, preferring country life and his dogs to just about anything else. As suspicion turns into infatuation, he truly shows his age by exhibiting all the signs of puppy love (and clearly wanting to get into her pants). Claflin exhibits this well through his broad physique and continually more agitated mannerisms. He’s all nervous energy and physicality. It gets increasingly difficult to root for him as he makes bolder and stupider decisions based on his unwavering belief in his and Rachel’s mutual love. A perfect foil to Weisz’s uber calm and collected Rachel, her face always an imperceptible mix of innocence and intelligence. Is she truly conflicted about falling in love with Philip or playing him right into her trap?
You can’t help but watch Rachel closely, looking for any sign that she may be as evil as Philip suspects. Still, it’s not exactly a fresh plot, due in no small part to the age of the original novel. Even as the cast and beautiful scenery keep the audience engaged, all the pieces seem to be leading to an expected ending. By the time the film actually does reach its climax, they have one more trick up their sleeve. While the trick should play like an unexpected development, it mostly feels just plain necessary. Without doing something to change the expected narrative, it would truly be a bore to watch. What’s the fun when you already know the ending?
Beautifully shot with a great cast, My Cousin Rachel is an engaging period drama but ultimately feels forgettable.