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My Cousin Rachel | Ipswich Film Theatre

My Cousin Rachel | Ipswich Film Theatre

Ipswich film theatre is a gem in the town’s arts and culture scene. Showing a mix of mainstream and independent films it offers a unique and much more personal experience than today’s multiplexes. It was a pleasure to visit again and the staff were friendly and welcoming.

My Cousin Rachel is a large budget adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel of the same name. Director Roger Michell has stayed true to the original story and maintains du Maurier’s sense of ambiguity, playing with the audience until the last and never truly answering the question posed at the start: “Did she or didn’t she?”

The films central character Philip, played by Sam Claflin, has been raised by his cousin Ambrose and receives guidance and notice from his Godfather (Iain Glen) whose daughter Louise (Holliday Grainger) is intended for him. Ambrose moves to Florence for his health and there meets a distance cousin Rachel, played by Rachel Weisz, whom he marries. A letter sent before his death suggests she has perhaps been instrumental in his death. When Rachel visits the family estate in Cornwall Philip is determined to accuse her but is soon beguiled by her beauty and femininity, something that from his male-centred upbringing he has little or no experience of. As their friendship progresses, Philip becomes more and more infatuated with Rachel and assists her financially. When the relationship begins to sour Philip becomes ill and Rachel nurses him, continuing to brew her special ‘tisane’ infusion to aid his recovery. And so his torment begins.

Rachel Weisz perfectly portrays the strong yet vulnerable widow whose intentions are never quite revealed; engendering both Philip’s and the audience’s compassion while allowing just enough mystique to keep us guessing. Our emotions flit from sympathy to suspicion and back again.

Sam Claflin is a youthfully exuberant and headstrong Philip whose naïve impulses override his sense of propriety and draw our attention away from Rachel’s possible influence on his actions. The theme of female strength and power here is inherent and the lack of a maternal figure in Philip’s sheltered life makes him immediately susceptible to her feminine charms whether she intends this or not.

Clever camera work means characters are often obscured from shot or viewed through the dimness of candlelight, further highlighting how none of them are truly revealed to one another or to the audience. These devices enhance the claustrophobic atmosphere and contrast brilliantly with the wide open spaces of the Cornish coast, brought centre stage by the stunning cinematography.

The tension builds to a denouement which feels inevitable, (although having seen an earlier adaptation I knew the ending!) In the final scene nothing is resolved and ambiguity firmly remains, leaving the audience talking and debating as they left the theatre…just as du Maurier would have wanted it no doubt.

Caroline Roberts

Undergraduate at the University of Suffolk

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