Adapted from a novel by Daphne du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel tells the story of Philip (Sam Claflin), an orphan taken in by his cousin Ambrose. As the two grow older, Ambrose's health begins to fail and he's sent to Italy on doctor's orders to recuperate. Letters arrive home telling of a beautiful cousin (can you guess her name?), with the pair marrying soon after. The tone of the letters begins to change, raising Philip's suspicions. He decides to travel to Italy to visit his cousin and finds that he is too late; Ambrose has passed away and his wife is nowhere to be found. Philip returns home, convinced that Rachel is to blame for Ambrose's death but confused to discover that his cousin and guardian had not updated his will, thus leaving Philip to inherit the family fortune and depriving the supposed femme fatale of her motive.
It's at least 20 minutes before our first encounter with the mysterious Rachel and it's so worth the wait – she is a delightfully mysterious presence dressed in mourning clothes and serving exotic tea, effectively playing host to Philip in his own home. A dark and confusing relationship develops, with Philip quickly becoming besotted with his house guest - quite understandably as Rachel Weisz is utterly beguiling in the title role.
As his infatuation takes hold, Philip's investigations and suspicions come to an abrupt halt, though others continue to mistrust. Philip's godfather Nick Kendall (Iain Glen) can only watch on as his ward makes a series of rash decisions. Holliday Grainger sparkles as Louise, shunted to one side by Philip upon the arrival of his more glamorous obsession. Tim Barlow's portrayal of the manservant Seecombe is scene-stealing, as he proves the owner of perhaps the most characterful nose in cinematic history.
I found the film enjoyable but not entirely successful. The first hour prepares us for a fun, over-the-top melodrama but it never quite gets going in this regard. Things pick up again towards the end but it did feel for me like the story sagged two-thirds of the way through. Weisz and Claflin keep the audience engaged but the movie really is built on the foundations of these excellent central performances.
Director Roger Michell, whose credits include movies as diverse as Notting Hill, Changing Lanes and the superb Venus from 2006, guides us down various dark avenues throughout the 106-minute running time. Some will turn out to be dead ends, whilst other paths are left deliciously open. The film begins with a voiceover from Philip asking, 'did she? Didn't she? Who's to blame?' and the key to the story undoubtedly lies in its ambiguity. If you're hoping for firm answers or neatly-tied loose ends, look elsewhere – this one will keep you guessing long after its tantalisingly teasing final shot.