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My Cousin Rachel

June 21, 2017

My Cousin Rachel (2017)
Director: Roger Michell
Actors: Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz, Iain Glen

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Synopsis: Philip (Sam Claflin) inherits the estate of his elder cousin, Ambrose, who died shortly after marrying the mysterious Rachel (Rachel Weisz). When Rachel comes to visit the estate in Cornwall shortly after, Philip is on the defensive, but is soon won over by Rachel’s charm offensive…

Review: A decade ago, Julian Jarrold’s workmanlike Jane Austen homage Becoming Jane seemed to bring a natural close to the ten year revival of the British period drama (especially of works inspired by Jane Austen) which had been kickstarted by the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice of 1995, and Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility in the very same year.

It really felt, at that point, that the period fad had exhausted all its goodwill, and only exceptional craftsmanship or novel ingenuity would warrant the genre’s further mining. Of course, like with superhero movies and franchise sagas, this presumption overlooked that we are now in the age where novelty is irrelevant if there is a fanbase to feed and a formula that can be repackaged and served up again and again and again. The period genre is one of these, and there are lots of people who gorge on just exactly the sort of superficially pretty, undemanding tosh churned out by artless hacks like Roger Michell here.

My Cousin Rachel is particularly unfortunate as it falls in the wake of last year’s stellar Love and Friendship. In fact, they’re uncannily similar in theme and plot, but My Cousin Rachel is like the uncool, naff, stiffer version of Whit Stilman’s infinitely more perceptive and superior take on his subject matter (just the kind of ingenuity that would warrant a re-exploration of literary heritage cinema).

My Cousin Rachel really is prototypical claptrap. It is possessed of such a flat and minimal conceit (could a femme fatale be about to get her hands on a sizeable fortune?) that is so telegraphed it’s beyond satire. The umpteenth shot of Rachel Weisz’s conveniently named Rachel handing Sam Claflin’s Philip a dodgy glass of wine or a mug of obscure herbal tea that maybe, just maybe, could have something to do with his ailing health is risibly hackneyed in the extreme. Part of the film’s problem is that Philip is one of the dullest, most one-dimensional, and least sympathetic, lead characters going. It’s hard to care if he is disinherited as his behaviour is so transparently in service to the plot. The most obvious example being the silly hook that Philip simply has to sign over his whole estate to this mysterious lady who, just weeks earlier, he thought was a murderer. All this just to get in her pants?

The only tragedy on display is not the drama, but the thought that all the money gone into this production and the old “club” (BBC Films, period drama, literary heritage, Roger Michell) could have funded multiple, lower budgeted and higher ambition, independent British fare. (June 2017)

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