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My Cousin Rachel, review: ‘The house is stately and so is the pace’

PUBLISHED: 16:41 07 June 2017 | UPDATED: 16:51 07 June 2017

My Cousin Rachel. Picture: Nicola Dove

My Cousin Rachel. Picture: Nicola Dove

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Roger Michell’s adaptation of this Daphne Du Maurier novel features a Sphinx like Rachel Weisz as a possible murderer but the pace is too stately to create suspense

The opening line poses a question: “Did she or didn’t she?”

It’s a very good question. Its variations – Is He or Isn’t He?/ Are They or Aren’t They?/ Was It or Wasn’t It? – have been the basis of many a fine entertainment. But there is an inherent problem with all these stories: somehow, you never really get a satisfactory answer.

In this adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s 1951 novel, the question is whether Rachel (Rachel Weisz) is a conniving merry widow who murdered her husband in Italy and is trying to seduce his heir Philip (Sam Clafin) into meekly handing over his estate to her, or is she genuinely in mourning.

Director Roger Michell has had a varied and often impressive career since Notting Hill, usually failing in his American project but making British films that seem thoroughly British, except in the way that they are uncommonly good. Here though he is rooted in the traditions of the costume drama.

He has written the adaption himself and has done a skillful job of it. The most difficult part surely was making Clafin’s meek acquiescence to Weisz’s charms seem credible. I’m not sure he quite succeeds but he does at least subtly imply that he is a man who is terrified of women and wary of anything he doesn’t know. Watch his look of disgust at the sight of two people talking Italian.

It is a very decent adaptation but there isn’t a whole lot here to fill the time. The house is stately, and so is the pace. Did she or didn’t she is a good question, but that is all it has got. A piece of evidence suggesting her guilt is presented before being rebutted by some evidence against with Weisz as a sphinx like presence in its centre, never letting down her guard.

After a while this balancing act of credibility becomes all a bit frugal and small scale and though the conclusion is much more than you’d expect, it doesn’t really seem like enough.

Go to Halfmanhalfcritic for reviews of The Mummy and the Arrow Blu-ray release of the restored version of Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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