Period pieces are still so prolific in film and television, it’s easy to dismiss them all instead of sifting for the better pieces that are being produced. My Cousin Rachel, an adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier book, offers plenty of intrigue, and it’s elevated by a performance from Rachel Weisz that makes the ambiguity of the character impact everything around her.
After the death of his parents when he’s young, Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin) goes to live with his cousin Ambrose (also Claflin). The two men live a fun life until health issues force Ambrose to move from England to Italy. While there, Ambrose falls for and marries their cousin, Rachel (Rachel Weisz). In letters written to Philip, Ambrose at first talks about his delight, but his letters soon give way to complaints about his failing health, and his growing belief that Rachel is responsible. Philip travels to Italy to see what’s going on, only to find that Ambrose has died from a brain tumor, Rachel has left, and Philip is set to be Ambrose’s sole beneficiary. After returning home, Philip learns more about Rachel, and he’s ready to attack her for killing Ambrose – until Rachel shows up at his home, and Philip begins to question everything.
My Cousin Rachel is steeped in ambiguity. There’s a constant question of whether Philip is justified in assuming that Rachel is scheming to get Ambrose’s fortune, or if his later willingness to do anything for Rachel is him going way too far in the other direction. It makes for a fascinating watch, made all the more worthwhile by the performances from Weisz and Claflin. It’s worth noting that audiences looking for definitive answers may not care for the way the film unfolds, because the story isn’t interested in providing those answers. But for audiences who are fine going along for the ride, the film is worth the time.