My Cousin Rachel
How do we know what is real, what is true?
Sometimes, we make judgments about what we think is real based on cold, hard evidence that seems factually incontrovertible. Other times, we make judgments about what we believe is true based on passion and experience—which can seem equally incontrovertible in a different way.
And sometimes, we do both.
So it is with Philip Ashley.
The 24-year-old has had a bittersweet life. Though he was orphaned as a child, his kindly older cousin, Ambrose, adopted him. "I loved him like a father," Philip says. Alas, as so often is the case in 19th-century England, Ambrose has taken ill, forcing a move to the sunnier, warmer climes of Florence, Italy. Once there, he meets a beautiful widow named Rachel who immediately enchants his heart, he reports in letters back to Philip.
At first, at least.
After they're married, things quickly grow more ominous.
"She watches me like a hawk," he writes in a recent missive to Philip. Ambrose suspects the worst of her, even insinuating that she might be behind his suddenly declining health. "Rachel—my tormentor," Ambrose writes of her. "Come quickly," he instructs Philip.
Philip does as instructed, but to no avail: Ambrose has died by the time he reaches Italy. And the man's sizable estate? It will pass to Philip, according the last known will and testament of the deceased nobleman. It will all be Philip's—held in trust by his godfather, guardian and longtime family friend, Nick Kendall—at the young man's 25th birthday.
Philip is convinced that Ambrose's wife is a conniving, thieving murderer. He vows justice, if not vengeance, for the tawdry crime he knows she's committed.
And then one day, cousin Rachel arrives at the Ashley estate. She's hardly the hideous, murderous monster Philip has envisioned. In fact, she's kind and gentle, tender and grieving, whimsical and independent.
Oh, and bewitchingly beautiful. Soon, Philip is bewitched. Besotted. Beguiled.
So much so, in fact, that he begins to consider justice of another kind: giving the entirety of his inheritance to this beautiful woman—who should have rightly received it as Ambrose's wife—even as he falls more and more deeply in love with her.
Philip's guardian, Kendall, isn't nearly as convinced of beautiful Rachel's innocence and inherent goodness. (Nor is Kendall's daughter, Louise, who's long harbored unrequited affection for Philip). But the young man will hear nothing of such suspicion and innuendo. There is no way his heart could be wrong in this matter, he angrily asserts. There's no way his ability to assess her character might have been influenced by her disarming charm.
But it wasn't so long ago that Philip felt equally convinced of her guilt regarding Ambrose's sudden demise. And when Philip himself suddenly takes ill, old doubts about Rachel's true character begin to surface—even as his relationship with her becomes more and more intimate.
Philip might be described as a true believer. Not in religious or spiritual sense, mind you, but in his unshakeable loyalty to those whom he loves. There's a naïve certainty to his love—which can be a good thing when the objects of his affection truly deserve it.
Nick Kendall does his best to convince Philip that giving Rachel his entire estate, no matter how well intended that generous gesture might be, is not a wise or prudent course of action. Likewise, Kendall's daughter, Louise, is remarkably patient as she watches the man she loves repeatedly make unwise decisions regarding his relationship with Rachel. Eventually, Louise becomes an important confidant as Philip tries to determine if Rachel does indeed harbor some nefarious intent toward him.
Kendall and his wife are repeatedly referred to as Philip's godparents. There are passing references to vicars and parsons. A couple of scenes take place in a spare, ramshackle church. Someone exclaims, "What the devil?" Someone else says sincerely, "Thank God!" Philip jokingly tells Rachel, "I think you're a witch. Or worse." A character looks up seemingly in silent thanks to God at a key moment.
Philip and Rachel kiss several times. Eventually, they consummate their relationship (with Philip seeing her willingness to sleep with him as tantamount to accepting an as-yet-unspoken marriage proposal). She beckons him into bed as the camera lens drifts out of focus. He's shirtless and her bare shoulders are visible in bed the next morning.
Shortly thereafter, the couple has sex in a forest; the camera watches her face (with its disturbingly complete lack of expression or emotion) and we see movements from the shoulders up. A fever dream that Philip has may very briefly imagine the couple having sex again (though both are fully clothed).
Philip thinks he sees Rachel kissing another man. He also swims naked in the ocean, and the camera spies his bare backside. Another scene pictures him shirtless. We see a room full of nude classical sculptures.
An adult male is said to be "Greek" in that he prefers boys to women. Someone suggestively says that Rachel is a woman of strong, passionate appetites (and it's clear what he's trying to communicate).
A horse falls and is mortally injured; we see men (at a distance) shoot the animal to put it down. We see someone's dead body. In anger, a man flips over a lawyer's desk. An official statement of death regarding Ambrose says that he had a tumor that was affecting his brain and judgment. Philip grabs Rachel's neck and chokes her in a rage-filled moment. We very briefly glimpse a dead, probably beheaded, chicken in a market.
[Spoiler Warning] Philip is convinced in the end that Rachel has been slowly poisoning him. So when she goes out for a horse ride, he tells her to ride along a cliff-side trail that he knows from recent experience is crumbling dangerously. She does, with disastrous results, just as Philip finds two letters of hers that potentially exonerate her.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word, two s-words. God's name is misused five times. We hear "d--n" once, as well as one of the British vulgarity "bloody."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Characters consume wine and ale at various social events. Philip, despondent and increasingly distrusting of Rachel, drinks wine directly from a bottle. Philip also smokes a pipe in one scene.
It's possible, perhaps even likely, that Rachel is using the same toxic plant to poison Philip that she perhaps did with her former husband as well.
Other Negative Elements
Philip repeatedly rejects reasonable requests by his guardian, his banker and his lawyer to slow the pace of his plans to give Rachel his estate.
What is real? What is true? In the end, Philip is utterly unsure how to answer either of those questions when it comes to Rachel's motivations. She might be a guileless victim. She might be a cunning villainess.
And though the film—a remake of a 1952 movie based on British novelist Daphne du Maurier's 1951 book of the same name—does lean in one of those directions, its conclusion still left me wondering, "What just happened?" And I wasn't the only one asking that question, if the many similar conversations I heard exiting the theater are any indication.
Whether or not Rachel is victim or villainess, though, one thing's pretty certain here: Wherever she goes, seduction, disarray and death sure seem to follow.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Sam Claflin as Philip Ashley; Rachel Weisz as Rachel Ashley; Iain Glen as Nick Kendall; Holliday Grainger as Louise Kendall; Andrew Havill as Vicar Pascoe
Roger Michell ( )
June 9, 2017