My Cousin Rachel [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (17th September 2017).
The Film

“Did she? Didn't she? Who was to blame?” 

Ah, a tale of murder….or is it? Or is it a tale of unrequited love gone wrong? Of all the ways to kill a person, poisoning is easily the most insidious. It is frequently a chosen method of predominantly female killers as well. History is loaded with tales of female poisoners that includes Lucrezia Borgia, Mary Ann Cotton, Nannie Doss, and North Carolina’s own, Velma Barfield. What is there about this style of crime that has such allure to the female species? Back in the day arsenic was the usual instrument of slow death; it was commonly used for a number of ordinary household uses including roach and rat extermination and was readily available from the local pharmacy or hardware store. But there is another more subtle motivation in this method of dispatch; the woman usually is the perpetrator of the crime, casually dispensing the poison in the form of food or drink, playing the heartfelt role of caretaker, while at the same time being the killer; hidden in plain sight, as it were. Not that there haven’t been plenty of male poisoners as well; it’s just that this crime has acquired a certain female slant, and the press loves to use the term, “Black Widow Killer” when the sex of the offender is female. But perhaps we should focus our attention on the psychological factors that make up such a killer. The typical killer that uses poison to dispatch their victims usually suffers from poor self-esteem; they tend “to have a sense of inadequacy, for which they compensate through a scorn for authority, a strong need for control, wish-fulfillment fantasies, and a self-centered, exploitive interpersonal style.” (A Psychological Profile of a Poisoner, Psychology Today, Joni E. Johnston, July 09, 2012). So what does all this have to do with the film "My Cousin Rachel" you may ask? The issue of whether or not Cousin Rachel is a killer is the crux of the film, however the way it is filmed, there are no easy or definitive answers.

We need to examine the source materials and author Daphne du Maurier’s novel to understand what the major issues are. Daphne du Maurier was a noted female author and playwright of the 30’s and the 40’s. Several of her novels were made into films of note including Alfred Hitchcock’s production of "Rebecca" (1940) and "My Cousin Rachel" was made into a film in 1952 directed by Henry Koster and starring Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland in the respective lead roles. Du Maurier was also the author of several short stories that were successfully filmed as well: "The Birds" directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1962 and "Don’t Look Now" directed by Nicholas Roeg in 1973. Du Maurier was known for her moody, psychologically driven plots with dark undertones of sexuality and the supernatural. Hitchcock’s film of "Rebecca" showcases a few of the author’s favorite themes: obsessive love, ancient mansions, the role of woman as possession, and an overwhelming gothic atmosphere.

The plot is as follows: set in the 1830’s in Cornwall, England, a young man named Phillip Ashely (Sam Clafin) is raised by his cousin, Ambrose (also Sam Clafin) on a huge country estate just before the Industrial Revolution. The two men are as close as can be and Ambrose is more a father figure than a care giving relative; they live in a large country house filled with dogs, dust and disrepair. As Philip comments early on, a female touch was not needed nor wanted, and the two men are fine with things the way they are. Change however comes in the form of a sustained illness and Ambrose is forced to move to Italy in search of fresh air and sunlight. Correspondence between the two men keeps each abreast of what the other is doing and then suddenly Ambrose mentions the arrival of a previously unheard of cousin, Rachel, the Contessa Sangalletti, a widower. Soon enough, Ambrose’s letters are full of details of the mysterious Rachel (Rachel Weisz) and how she has miraculously nursed him back to health. Phillip is slightly jealous upon hearing this news and he mopes about the estate waiting for the return of his cousin Ambrose. Still a young man, he is scheduled to inherit the entire estate when he turns twenty-five, but apparently Phillip is in no hurry to be responsible or act as an adult; his time is well filled with mucking about the grounds, riding horses along the coast, and basically just being an well-kept boy. Keeping an eye on Phillip is his god father Nick Kendal (Iain Glenn) and Kendall’s daughter Louise (Holliday Grainger); it is more than obvious that Louise has a crush on Phillip, but he has clearly told her that their relationship is strictly friends only, and so she ends up being a gal pal more than a female counterpart. Then a letter arrives that rocks Phillip’s world: Ambrose, who “never had much need for women” has upped and done the unthinkable and wed Rachel. And in addition, he has no plans to return to England either; it looks like Phillip is abandoned once more. Reeling from the news, Phillip is left to his own devices and he stews with a murderous hatred towards this unseen cousin who has obviously swept Ambrose off his rather unsteady legs. Later on a mysterious letter arrives from Ambrose, who is no longer doing so well, and he complains about the climate, the reoccurring headaches, and most importantly, the constant administrations of his new wife, Rachel. Ambrose hastily writes in the letter that he suspects that he is being poisoned by Rachel and that Philip needs to come quickly before it is too late. Since this is the 1830’s and there are no airplanes flying daily to Italy, by the time Philip arrives at the estate of the countess, Ambrose had died violently of a brain tumor. While at the villa in Florence he is met by another gentleman, Enrico Rainaldi (Pierfrancesco Favino), a lawyer and old friend of Rachel’s; the angry Philip grabs the smooth Italian by the lapels and demands to know where Rachel is. Apparently she has fled Italy and is on her way to England. Upon arriving back home Kendall gives two documents to Phillip: the death certificate that indeed confirms that Ambrose died of a brain tumor and a copy of his will but it is unsigned; strange that the new Mrs. Ashely wouldn’t be awarded the estate of her husband? All of this is merely backstory because Rachel doesn’t enter the film until a good twenty minutes into it, but once she does, the story is all about her.

“For God's sake, come to me quickly. She has done for me at last, Rachel my torment. If you delay, it may be too late. Ambrose.“

Rachel floats into the scene wearing widow’s garb, but she immediately charms Philip, who was expecting some nagging hag, and before you know it the young man is head over heels in love with his new mother-in-law! Technically that is, but the incestuous angle is not played up in director Roger Michell’s version of events, and as we watch Phillip begins to slowly unravel, we also ponder if he is mad or paranoid or is Rachel an actual murderer? She doesn’t really do much that is suspicious except insisting on brewing some ghastly tasting tea with various herbs in it (strictly for medicinal purposes she insists) but as our suspicion grows so does our uncertainty of the facts. As an audience we are forced to see things as they are through Philip’s eyes and the opening lines of “Did she? Didn’t she? Who is to blame?” come back as a haunting refrain to an unanswerable question. Without giving away all the answers, I will not reveal what becomes of our love struck lad or our bewitching lady in waiting; you will just have to watch the film to see what happens.

There are many things to enjoy in this melodrama, however this isn’t another Rebecca and Rachel’s not dreaming of Manderley; there is the sweeping cinematography of Mike Eley and Rael Jones’ subtle score adds nuance where needed. The real winner is the costumes by Dinah Collin and the locations are completely on the mark. I must admit the use of low level lighting by candle only caused me to cringe more than once as I was waiting for the bedding to catch fire when Philip comes a calling in the middle of the night during one scene. The cast is more than adequate but it is Weisz’s film completely through and through and her performance of Rachel will leave you wondering what her real motivation was anyhow.

Video

Presented in 2.40:1 widescreen, mastered in HD 1080p 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression, this film is beautifully lit and very much a gorgeous film to watch, "My Cousin Rachel" is a rare period piece that manages to have a subtle feminist subtext to it as well. The perfect film for a rainy day to enjoy.

Audio

Several audio tracks are included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and English Audio Descriptive Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The audio in English DTS-HD mix is the expected level of studio perfection, dialogue is a bit low due to whispering, so turn it up loud. The soundtrack is non-evasive and fills the backdrop perfectly. Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French, and Spanish.

Extras

Fox has included a audio commentary, a series of featurettes, a gallery, plus a DVD copy and digital copy versions of the film.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

Audio commentary is by director Roger Michell and producer Kevin Loader is available for listening to the two men discusses the finer points of the film while you watch the feature film.

"Costumes" featurette (2:40) is a brief clip regarding the importance of establishing the time period through the use of costumes and set design.

"Daphne du Maurier" featurette (2:12) another brief clip where the cast and crew talk about how they feel about the author and her work.

"Did she or didn’t she?" featurette (1:43) touches upon the mystery at the heart of the film.

"Story (Rachel)" featurette (1:01) features Rachel Weisz speaking about the role she portrays.

"Story (Sam)" featurette (1:02) features the actor Sam Clafin speaking about his role and how love can possess a person.

"Cast" featurette (2:35) features the cast reflecting upon the film and how they all go along.

"West Horsley" featurette (2:54) a clip regarding the actual house and grounds in Cornwall, England where the film was made.

"VFX Progressions" featurette (2:50) illustrates some movie making magic special effects and how certain scenes were changed through CGI; uses a montage of scenes set to music of original scenes and then how they were digitally edited.

"Scoring Sessions" featurette (6:35) a series of clips that shows how the score was created for the film.

Gallery features a collection of stills shot for the film.

There are two theatrical trailers for the film, as well as bonus trailers for:

- "Gifted"
- "Far From the Madding Crowd"
- "Wilson"
- "A Royal Night Out"

DISC TWO: DVD

This is a DVD version of the film.

Included in the case is a code to download a digital copy version of the film.

Packaging

Comes packaged in a blu-ray keep case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

"My Cousin Rachel" is a brooding psychological thriller of a film with a dash of romance with the mystery.

The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: B

 


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