[Screen It]


(2017) (Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz) (PG-13)

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Drama: A man ends up falling for his cousin's widow despite believing the woman might have killed his relative and could now be trying to do the same to him.
It's the 1800s and Philip Ashley (SAM CLAFLIN) has returned from university to live with his older cousin, Ambrose (also CLAFLIN), who raised Philip like a son after the boy was orphaned at a young age. But now older and with the cold weather affecting his health, Ambrose moves to warmer climes and keeps in touch with Philip via letters. Considering Ambrose had no need for women and Philip barely had any contact with them growing up on their remote estate, the young man is surprised to read that Ambrose has met a young widow, fallen in love with and then married her, and then grown increasingly concerned that she might be the end of him.

Having received a letter imploring him to come to his estate as soon as possible, Philip does just that, only to be informed by a stranger, Guido Rainaldi (PIERFRANCESCO FAVINO), that Ambrose is dead -- reportedly of a brain tumor -- and his once-again widowed wife, Rachel (RACHEL WEISZ), is not there at the sprawling, seaside estate. When he learns she's planning on visiting, Philip plots his revenge against the woman he believes killed his cousin. But when he finally meets Rachel, he quickly ends up falling for her and her for him, something that troubles Philip's godfather, Nick Kendall (IAIN GLEN), and that man's young adult daughter, Louise (HOLLIDAY GRAINGER), who's always had a thing for Philip who only sees her as a friend.

Their concern grows when Philip announces that upon his 25th birthday -- when he'll fully inherit his late cousin's estate -- he plans to give everything to Rachel. And once that's official, Philip grows increasingly concerned that she very well could be slowly poisoning him. From that point on, and still desperate for her love that now seems more distant now that she owns the estate, Philip tries to discern whether she's a cold-blooded and manipulative killer or a misunderstood widow.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Have you ever had a made-up conversation in your head between you and someone else, such as a co-worker you believe is trying to undermine you, a boss you think doesn't appreciate your level of hard work, or maybe a significant other who's been doing something that irritates you?

Has that discourse -- still only in your head -- turned heated and actually made you angry at that person in real life despite them having not been a participant in said discussion and possibly not even guilty of the transgression that's escalated to DEFCON 1 in your mind?

Or have you gone to the even greater extreme of having such a hostile interaction with an individual you've never met in person and have only heard about through others, only to discover they're not what you imagined?

Yes, sometimes it's best to shut off the gossipy parts of one's noggin' and stick to the facts rather than imagined hearsay and thus avoid unnecessary emotional stress, increased blood pressure and making much ado about nothing. But what if there's some evidence, even if open to interpretation, that does get one all worked up before meeting a person for the first time?

Such is the case in "My Cousin Rachel" where a young 19th century English man, Philip (Sam Claflin), learns that his older cousin, Ambrose (also Claflin, seen only briefly) -- who raised him after from the time he was orphaned at a young age -- has become increasingly concerned about his own well-being ever since marrying a widowed cousin of theirs, Rachel (Rachel Weisz).

Philip learns of this increasingly dire situation via letters sent his way, and when the last one implores him to visit as soon as possible, the young man does just that, only to learn his cousin is dead and the now twice-widowed relative is MIA. Despite having never met the woman but armed with some information, Philip then intends to get his revenge -- of the non-murderous variety -- upon learning of Rachel's imminent arrival.

But then the young man sets eyes on her and his disdain quickly turns to puppy love, while his striking resemblance to his cousin arouses something in Rachel. But is that love (of the pure form or perhaps a misguided response to the familial doppelganger effect) or something more manipulative? After all, Rachel's late husband didn't include her in his will, and now Philip is set to inherit his cousin's estate upon his 25th birthday. Should we cue up the dramatically suspenseful music in case something diabolical is afoot?

The movie is the second adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's 1951 novel of the same name. The first, from 1952 and that I haven't seen, starred Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland and earned four Academy Award nominations. While Weisz gives a strong performance, I doubt this version -- from writer/director Roger Michell ("Notting Hill") -- will earn the same sort of Oscar love outside of perhaps production or costume design.

And while it's an intriguing story concept of perception and how that can go wrong in a variety of ways, the offering never quite felt fully cooked to me. It's almost as if it had been left to simmer a bit longer, it might have been far tastier and certainly spicier.

Long story short, Philip wants to hate Rachel, falls for her instead, does something ill-advised (but also somewhat noble), and then begins to wonder if perhaps his new lover, now the sole benefactor of his generosity, could be doing the same as she might have done to his cousin -- slowly poison him to death.

Part of the "fun" of that should be a terrific storytelling tightrope with facts on one side and paranoia on the other. Some of that's there, but it all feels too timid in execution in terms of keeping both Philip and the viewer on their toes, trying to figure out if what's present is face value or just the old imagination run amok.

I would have loved to have had a chance to tweak the script to kick things up and raise the levels of doubt, suspicion and so on. Alas, that wasn't meant to be. Sporting an intriguing premise but only a mediocre execution of said material, "My Cousin Rachel" rates as just a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 5, 2017 / Posted June 9, 2017

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