The pleasant ambiguity of “My Cousin Rachel.”

We went to see “My Cousin Rachel” this afternoon, and I really liked it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty good overall — and Rachel Weisz was excellent.

I haven’t read the book since I was a teenager — it had been so long, in fact, that my internal misandry had erased the male protagonist from my memory altogether — so I can’t say whether or not the film was true to the source material. But as Lennox remarked, “It was like a du Maurier mobius strip of both misogyny and misandry!” Is Rachel wicked after all? Is it just a function of the male gaze? We never really know, and it’s better that way.

The costuming was interesting, too — subtle, but quite good. The vicar’s daughters have terrible, slightly out of style sleeves from the previous decade (fashions were slow to appear in Cornwall, I’m sure), the fresh-faced innocent is presented in all of her country glory (her at-times almost masculine daywear underscores how understanding she is, of course), and Rachel is a figure of enigmatic foreign mourning (with so many symbolic veils). Even Phillip’s scraggly and mud-spattered riding clothes imply his immaturity and artlessness as clearly as the actor’s performance.

And Cornwall! What is it about Cornwall that makes everyone in a du Maurier story fall into terrible trouble? Criminals around every corner! Wicked women and evil vicars and conspiracies of silence! Muttering, mad housekeepers! Amongst the cliffs, terrible misunderstandings abound. And a distant cousin, who may (or may not) have been every bit as horrible as a naive and suspicious young man suspected.

“My Cousin Rachel” isn’t a masterpiece, and isn’t for everyone. People with short attention spans or a low tolerance for costume drama will want to skip this, but others with a taste for gothic ambiguity will probably enjoy it. I thought it was worth seeing for Weisz’s performance alone, though I enjoyed all of it. I recommend it (although with my previously stated reservations). I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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