Questionable remake leaves audience cold

Questionable remake leaves audience cold

What I hoped would be a yummy art house feature to relieve a long, hot summer fell far short of my expectations. Allow me to save you a needless trip to a Houston cinema to see “My Cousin Rachel” when you can just wait for cable pay-per-view. I’ll wager it will be available by August.

Based on the Daphne Du Maurier novel, there is another much older version that featured Olivia De Havilland and Richard Burton. It’s rather obscure and not much better than this. At least that was the conclusion of Ms. Du Maurier, who distanced herself from the final version because it did not live up to her expectations. Imagine that.

As much as it is always a pleasure to see the films of Rachel Wiesz, it’s clear from the moment she appears that her talents, save for an enigmatic poker face, are wasted here. She plays the title character that doesn’t show up until about 30 minutes into the film, which is told from the perspective of Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin), an orphan who is the ward of his uncle, Ambrose (also played by Claflin). We learn that Philip did not take well to university and returned home to pursue the agrarian life, but Ambrose, now ill, is away in Italy where his constant letters reveal he has met a cousin, Rachel. Subsequent letters detail a happy marriage, but then the timbre changes to one of paranoia and fear as Ambrose reveals to Philip he thinks she is trying to kill him.

A hastened trip to Italy reveals that Ambrose has died and Rachel has disappeared, leaving Philip in a seething stew. The confrontation with her that Philip desires is granted when she comes for a visit to settle matters pertaining to the marriage. But Philip’s ire melts in the smoldering heat of passion once he meets the soft-spoken, delicate Rachel.

But beware of women wearing long black veils. Soon Philip’s obsession has grown into a full-on unrequited obsession, and to his desired end, he bequeaths to Rachel the entire estate that became his at Ambrose’s death. But the question remains: Is she really evil enough to kill not one, but two men for money?

Roger Michell, who also directed “Notting Hill,” slogs through this like a muddy quagmire of hazy hints and manufactured tensions. His version of events is nothing but a giant tease likened to the not-so-subtle tease Rachel puts on Philip. No amount of this can assuage what is basically a weak storyline with a lot of ambiguity that is never fully resolved. Plus, there is no modicum of subtlety to Michell’s direction, and some things that can be figured out are done so easily.

Claflin is one of several interchangeable young, handsome British actors, and up until now, in “Hunger Games” and “Me Before You” was decent enough. But, there is no chemistry between him and Weisz, making this more awkward than it already is. As for Weisz, we get that the character of Rachel is supposed to be an unreadable cipher, but she has all the presence of one of the marble statues that populate the dusty halls of the Ashley estate.

With lush costumes, set design and cinematography all appropriate to the late 1880s, this should have been a sure hit with the art house crowd. But I suspect most will come away feeling as though they’ve been dosed with cold medication rather than entertained. The mystery to “Rachel” is why it was even re-made.

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