Between My Cousin Rachel and Get Out, white tea cups with blue details are having a moment in two very different but similarly satisfying thrillers. In My Cousin Rachel, Rachel Weisz uses her tea set to (possibly?) poison the young cousin and doppelganger of her deceased husband (Sam Claflin), while in Get Out, it's Catherine Keener's tool to hypnotize her daughter's boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), and hold him in the "sunken place." Tea, anyone? Except, unlike Get Out, My Cousin Rachel carries less of a social punch and is set in the late 1800s. Rachel Weisz describes it as an "edgy take on a classic period film," where she plays a "sexually liberated" widow looking to preserve her freedom and autonomy. She’s right - it's a simmering slow burn kind of Gothic thriller, like Crimson Peak, but without the haunting supernatural elements. It’s also not quite as good.
Here, Sam Claflin's naive and virginal Philip ends up residing with the wife of his late cousin as he attempts to avenge his sudden death, which he suspects to be murder by Rachel's hand. A series of letters from his cousin tipped him off that she is a black widow in the making — complete with a veil — but of course, he's no match for the "notorious" Rachel, who plays innocent and manipulates him into submission as she continues to send money out of the country. The two spend much of the movie circling each other for scraps of information and peck away at each other's fortunes and ego, until she manages to convince him that he's in love with her. But is he? And is she guilty, or is he simply paranoid? Did his cousin truly have a brain tumour all along? Rachel’s homemade hallucinogenic tea brews and a moustachioed lawyer further complicate Philip’s clarity.
The film drags along for the first two thirds, but its ending is very satisfying and leaves you questioning who’s outsmarting who in a number of scenes throughout. Part of its unbalanced pacing has to do with Rachel Weisz being an intentionally stronger actor and character opposite Sam’s Philip, especially considering the buildup of her being an impenetrable vixen whose bark may or may not be stronger than her bite. She outperforms him and holds the reins over every scene they share, which makes his chase and pursuit slightly less fun than advertised. This is a solid B movie, a remake of the 1952 Olivia de Havilland-Richard Burton movie, and an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier (The Birds) of the same name. Rachel Weisz’s performance alone is worth the price of admission, and it’s always fun to watch her act circles around her scene partners. Also she looks INCREDIBLE.
And after her recent turns in the disappointing (and missed opportunity) Denial, and the criminally underseen The Light Between Oceans, this Rachel part drives up the hype even more for her next project: Disobedience. Rachel stars in and produces the adaptation of a 2006 novel about a woman who returns to her Orthodox Jewish home following the death of her estranged rabbi father. While there, she shows romantic interest in a childhood friend (Rachel McAdams) which causes quite the uproar in the community. Now that’s a role worthy of her – plus, we get to see the two Rachels together. If anything, this sounds like Rachel’s (second) Oscar ticket much more than My Cousin Rachel, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll get to see it at TIFF. It shot in January and just sold at Cannes, after all. And in a piece of placeholder press, Rachel talked it up in her recent profile with The Guardian.
Is it fair to look beyond this project, and suggest the best is yet to come for Rachel?