Starring: Rachel Weisz, Sam Clafin, Holliday Grainger
Director: Roger Michell
Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, this is the story of an orphan raised by his adult cousin in Victorian era Cornwall. The two are devoted to each other, and live a rough and tumble bachelor life until Phillip’s (Clafin) guardian has to go to Italy for his health, marries suddenly and then as suddenly dies. Distraught, Phillip blames the widow for the death, especially as strange and disturbing letters from his dying cousin seem to suggest something sinister happened, and he plots her downfall.
But when his cousin Rachel (Weisz) arrives in Cornwall he finds her to be someone who is different from any woman he has ever met, more cultured and beautiful, but also one who understands him. As he falls for her, is he falling in love with his beloved guardian’s killer or is she innocent?
This is the kind of story Du Maurier was so good at constructing, which made her stories beloved of directors like Hitchcock, and in fact this book has been adapted into a film before in 1952 with Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton. She’s a master at creating ambiguity and suspense in situations that might otherwise be sort of everyday. This book sticks close to the source material.
Weisz is perfect as the titular cousin, able to be warm and cold, mysterious and beautiful by turns. Clafin is well cast as her younger country cousin, handsome and wealthy, and caught by his feelings and lack of experience in a web of emotion. I felt when I was watching this like it could be that his passion is childish and obsessive or real and abused. That she could be calculating and murderous or just as equally a woman who wants to be independant and free in a world where manners and rules kept women trapped. It’s a wonderful thing to watch it unfold, and the supporting cast of solid British performers really support the plot and pressurize the central situation.
Of course, in these films the costumes and locations really help immerse you in the world of the story, and I love the lavish design used in this film. It makes it a bit more fascinating to watch. Something about the landscape of Cornwall really lends itself to the mysterious tone of this film.
It’s a more paced film, one to slow down and let unfold, rather than rush get to a solution. It focuses on beauty and mood creation, with little pieces unfolding as it goes along. It’s a softer film, to make you think, rather than a detective or straight mystery story. I enjoyed it, but it may be slow for some of you, perhaps.
See It If: you like Victorian era stories, mysterious women, dashing but foolish young men, and beautiful British landscapes. A good story.