Rachel Weisz is as captivating a screen presence as you could wish for. Beautiful, mysterious and beguiling, she has the whole audience in the palm of her hand, just as she does with young Philip (Sam Claflin), her cousin by marriage.
But Rachel is a complex character whose actions and emotions are open to interpretation, and this ambiguity creates tension from the moment she appears (which is a long way into the film, considering she is named in the title). Do we believe she is conniving or genuine, grieving or manipulating? It’s fair to say that I changed my mind a couple of times while watching, which adds to the fun and intrigue.
However, whereas Weisz provides a strong canvas on which to paint intrigue, her opposite number Claflin does not. He moves from blind hatred to puppy dog love without showing any graduation or confusion at all, rendering his first-act posturing irrelevant. And for the remainder of the story, his naïveté was then just an irritation, instead of being another layer to Rachel’s complexity. Such a shame, because du Maurier excels at tension, and Claflin’s boyish tantrums meant that once I’d made up my mind about Rachel, the tension was over.
It’s set in a beautiful part of the world, though, and so the outdoor shots look absolutely lovely; and I’d like to commend Holliday Grainger for bringing life to what is really a thankless role.
I’m not saying this is a disaster, but I sadly can’t bring myself to say it’s much more than average either.