The role of doubt in My Cousin Rachel


The central question in My Cousin Rachel, which is less gothically intense than its promotional material would have you believe, is whether the titular character (Rachel Weisz) has killed her husband Ambrose and is in the process of murdering Philip (Sam Claflin), or whether happenstance is at play.

In recent episodes of Kermode and Mayo's film review podcast, the hosts have detailed how Weisz made a decision early in the creative process on whether or not Rachel was guilty and stuck with that assumption throughout filming. The actor did not tell the director, Roger Michell, which side she had come down on.

This suggests a fascinating dichotomy. Michell, unaware of whether his star thought her character evil or not, must have made his own decisions. Claflin his own also. And the rest of the cast. All the way back to Daphne Du Maurier, whose work this adaptation is based upon.

Where does that leave us, the audience, left to interpret a maelstrom of competing agendas, some of which were likely conceived at odds with others?

At first, it is tempting to conclude that the mixed messages of Michell's narrative have gotten the better of him. There seems very little actual doubt in My Cousin Rachel. A plant that may be poisonous and which Rachel may have had access to in both Ambrose and Philip's cases. The scribbled letters of Ambrose, clearly wracked by some illness. It's hardly a weight of evidence and you wonder whether there's really enough there to drive the doubt on offer, which in turn drives the narrative.

But maybe that's the point. We're offered scant little during the film and yet, at points, we must find ourselves siding with Philip and his suspicions. After all, we see things from his perspective. Rachel does not even get the right of reply until perhaps a third of the way into the film.

The doubt on offer, really, is towards Philip's muddled and ill-evidenced interpretation of events. The perspective though confuses this. We're invited to believe Philip, drawn into his assertions and growing abuse of Rachel. A scene of love-making in the wood near to Philip's house is a tough watch.

And so it should be. Philip is not, in any discernible way, a character to be liked or trusted, believed or followed. But Michell shows us what perspective can do. The discomfort come the conclusion of My Cousin Rachel is not because sufficient doubt has not been offered. It's internal doubt. Doubt around how we ever could have sympathised with Philip in the first place.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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