As I recall, my late mother liked to read some of Daphne Du Maurier’s novels back in the 1950s. Despite the French (Norman) name, she fits well into courses in “English literature”, following the Victorian novelists, writing about their time period but with a touch or gothic horror and supernatural as well as class given romance. I remember reading two novels by Thomas Hardy (including “The Return of the Native”) in 12th grade, and some George Eliot aka Mary Anne Evans (“Silas Marner”) in 10th, with the way a little girl named Eppie humbled the Scrooge-like Silas. The best known film based on Du Maurier that I had seen before was Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca”, with the burning of Cornwall at the end. The other classic film, based on her story story, was Hitchcock’s “The Birds” in 1963 (I have visited Bodega Bay twice).
“My Cousin Rachel”, the new British period gothic romance film by Roger Michell for Fox, based on Du Maurier’s mature 1951 classic gothic novel, is set in the same Cornwall, and opens with a shot of the fragile coastal cliffs that will play a crucial role in the movie plot (the details of which, Rachel’s death, are changed from the book). Here let’s say that the movie and book touch on the whole moral question about the proper way to behave with inherited wealth and estates. Think of the politics: the conservatives (the GOP in the US) wants to eliminate the death tax and grow family generational wealth, Trump-style; the radical Left, like the People’s Party of New Jersey which I spied on in the early 1970s, wants to eliminate privilege and especially inherited wealth. There are questions even in how I manage my own estate (link). A good friend from California in the Log Cabin Republicans world tells me and an entertainment attorney tells me that George Eliot’s novels dealt with the “dead hand” and the proper use of inherited wealth a few times in her novels, and this seems to be a preoccupation of English novelists. (High school English teachers, take note, even if I’m not subbing for you now; good test question material.) People could be pursued by relatives or other interests based on the way arcane language in a will is re-interpreted, the source of a lot of handwritten-document intrigue. This whole English class system seems to fear expropriation. As if the inheritances hog wealth that could become a poorer person’s safety net, even in conservative parlance. The really radical Left regards inheritance as stealing. Even Thomas Piketty doesn’t go that far.
The central characters are Philp Ashley (Sam Clafin), the 24-year-old looking forward to taking over his guardian’s estate (cousin Ambrose, who has mysteriously died in Italy), cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz), the godfather Nick (Ian Glen), now supervising Philip until he comes of age at 25 and more distant relative Louise Kendall (Holliday Grainer), who has plenty of suspicion of Rachel. Let us say that Philip is assertive and dominating, if a bit of a home-body. One scene shows a real hairy chest, but in those days women didn’t have to shave their legs, either.
The plot is both Hitchockian and a bit of a stretch. Philip first suspects Rachel of poisoning his guardian. A trip to Italy and shown Rachel in cahoots with one Rainaldi. But once back home, as she moves in and as Philips gives her an allowance, he starts to fall in love with her.
Here comes the stuff about inheritance. The guardian Ambrose had left the family estate to Philip, so he doesn’t need another job and keeps the servants. But there had been another will leaving it to Rachel, unsigned because apparently Rachel didn’t have child. Philip feels conscience-bound to turn it over to her, but expects to marry her and live off the wealth anyway.
The late part of the movie turns into the love-hate. Philips has potentially procreative sex with her once (and in older families people do have sex with cousins, and it happens today in some circles, not a good idea). Philip gets sick, and suspects her of poisoning him. Their interactions become surreal (as in a stage play, something Jesse Eisenberg could come up with), as Rachel, after Philip turns over the estate to her, won’t marry him. There are hints that she has a lesbian relationship on the side, and that Rinaldi back in Italy was homosexual and wanted much younger men. Even so, I was left with the impression that at first wanted just to do “the right thing.”
Then Philip finds a clever, undetectable way to get rid of her. It’s different from the book, but pure Hitchcock.
At the end, you feel you have indeed watched a horror film. Other reviewers have criticized the film as too tame, but I found it rather compelling.
The film draws out the period look, showing how people sign legal documents with quill pens to make then so final and official.
The movie reminds me of “Raising Helen” (Disney, Garry Marshall, 2004), where a young woman has to (or gets to ) raise a sister’s child as part of an estate. And I recall the short story by John Knowles, “The Reading of the Will”, in an anthology “Phineas”, which contains the story upon which the coming-of-age prep school tragedy [anticipating the WWII draft] “A Separate Peace” film (1972, Larry Peerce) was based. Yes, he jousted the limb,
Lands End at Cornwall, wiki
|Name:||“My Cousin Rachel“|
|Director, writer:||Roger Michell, Daphne Du Maurier|
|When and how viewed:||Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, 2017/6/9, evening, fair crowd|
(Posted: Saturday, June 10, 2017 at 12 Noon EDT)