Daphne Du Maurier’s 19th century gothic romance – previously filmed in 1952 – has been given a new big screen adaptation by director Roger Michell (Notting Hill).
Mixing melodrama, mystery, a black widow, a callow youth, and a candlelit manor on the Cornish coast, it’s an enticing brew for a chilly winter’s night, but not as bewitching as it could have been.
Strapping young Englishman Philip (Sam Claflin) is shocked to learn that his cousin and guardian, Ambrose, has died abroad following his marriage to an enigmatic Italian/English widow named Rachel (Rachel Weisz). Following the discovery of hastily scribbled notes that implicate Rachel in Ambrose’s demise, Philip is determined to make her pay dearly when she arrives at the rural estate he now stands to inherit.
However, upon meeting this beautiful woman in black, all thoughts of revenge quickly dissipate as Philip becomes hopelessly infatuated with Rachel. His godfather (Iain Glen) warns him to tread carefully regarding ownership of the estate, especially where an unsigned will, family jewels and a marriage clause are concerned. Moreover, why is Rachel transferring money out of the country, and what exactly is in those cups of herbal tea she’s got Philip swilling?
“Did she; didn’t she; who’s to blame?” is the question asked at the start of this gloomy period drama. You’ll probably guess long before Philip does, but there’s still a final sting to this nicely ambiguous tale.
Performance wise, Weisz is suitably austere as the shrewdly manipulative widow, although there’s very little chemistry between her and Claflin. The former Hunger Games hero is fine as a dashing Mr. Darcy type – the kind of role Hugh Grant was playing twenty years ago – but his character is hamstrung by naiveté. Philip’s instant submission to Rachel’s feminine wiles doesn’t quite gel, even for a guy who’s clueless when it comes to the opposite sex. It’s a frustrating flaw in an otherwise intriguing mystery that plays out like Jane Austen in a dark mood.
In cinemas: June 8, 2017
Starring: Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz, Holliday Grainger
Directed by: Roger Michell