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A dull visit with 'My Cousin Rachel'

Poor Philip.

He’s an arrogant, naïve, spoiled rich young Englishman. His guardian runs off to Italy and marries Rachel, a beautiful woman he’s never met, and Philip starts receiving strange letters from the guardian that his new wife is trying to kill him. Philip rushes there but the guy is already dead, and Rachel has taken off.

Is she a gold-digging murderess? Or a victim of her dead husband’s madness before he died?

This is supposed to be the mountain-switchback plot of “My Cousin Rachel,” but in this clunky remake of the 1952 version it’s more like a loose screen door slamming open and shut in the wind.

Philip wants revenge, so he sends Rachel a letter and invites her to stay with him. But a full two seconds after first staring into her beautiful brown eyes he quite literally gives her the keys to his kingdom.

At this point he becomes so knuckle-headed that it’s almost refreshing to see his life subsequently fall apart.

“My Cousin Rachel” is a breathtaking film to look at, but it’s an aggravatingly dull thing to sit through. Like the Yule log on Netflix—which is just a loop of a cozy fire burning in a fireplace—you can stare at cinematographer Mike Eley’s gorgeous, absolutely stunning shots of Cornwall and just leave the sound off.

The story is based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier, who also wrote the short story “The Birds,” on which Hitchcock based his famous film. We never learn why the birds attack in Hitchcock’s screenplay, and Hitchcock dubbed that unknown film plot device a McGuffin. In “Pulp Fiction” it was the unknown contents of the briefcase. In “My Cousin Rachel” it’s…well, the whole story is kind of a McGuffin of nothing.

It’s film noir that paradoxically takes place in the bright sunshine, a suspense story with no suspense, a love story with no love and a murder mystery with no murder, and little mystery. Perhaps there is some lofty, deeper thing going way over my head here, but for a storyline that depends on subtext, suspense and tension, it’s just a lot of pretty pictures and poker-faced expressions. And tea. A lot of tea.

The repetitious tinkling piano score doesn’t help, like some kind of water torture ear-flicking every time something, or nothing, is about to happen.

In spite of a great cast, including Rachel Weisz as the is-she-or-isn’t-she Cousin Rachel who actually does nothing, and Sam Claflin as the forehead-smackingly dimwitted Philip, what might have been a creepy, tiffany-candle twisted dark film is about exciting as watching clothes tumble around and around in the Laundromat.

Part of the problem may be that Weisz is too good of an actress; her poker face gives nothing away of Rachel’s truth, and Claflin is handsome as the stupefied Philip who is completely under her spell.  But nothing really happens, and the ending, when finally something actually happens, has no satisfying resolution so all we end up with is, well, nothing.


“My Cousin Rachel”

★ ★ (out of 4)

Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin and Iain Glen star in remake of film about a young Englishman who falls under the spell of his beautiful cousin. Rated PG-13 for sexuality and brief, strong language. 104 minutes.

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