Rachel Weisz Sam Claflin Holliday Grainger Iain Glen Pierfrancesco Favino
The film begins on an intriguing note, with the character Philip (Claflin) asking questions of himself: “Did she?” “Didn’t she?” “Who’s to blame?” Then the setting moves to the country estate in Cornwall, where Philip manages his guardian’s landed property. He supervises the help competently, and seems to be beloved. But social skills are at a minimum, as he was orphaned at a young age and now lives and works primarily with men. He is close in a male-male kind of way with his godfather Nick Randall (Glen), who frequently brings his daughter, Philip’s cousin Louise (Grainger), along. It’s Randall’s hope that there will be a match between Louise and Philip. But there is little chemistry between the two; Louise is supportive of Philip, giving him subtle hints, and attempts to playfully tease him, but he is oblivious.
Intrigue sets in when Philip receives messages from his guardian Ambrose [who has moved to Italy and married a woman named Rachel (Weisz)] who thinks he is being poisoned…by Rachel]. Philip instantly flies to Italy, only to find that Ambrose has died and Rachel has departed. The only person he meets is an oily character named Rainaldi (Favino) who seems to be taking care of Ambrose’s affairs.
Intrigue is heightened when Philip gets word that Rachel—whom he has never met—is coming to visit. Clever storytelling reveals more of Philip’s personality in his naïveté about women and his jumping to conclusions about Rachel, based on little information. He’s ready to read her the riot act…and then he meets her. She is beautiful, first of all, but kind, thoughtful, and attentive as well. He is clearly not equipped to see her in an objective light. He welcomes her and begs her to continue living on the estate.
Up to this point, I was taken in by the film (based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel, with a screenplay by Director Roger Michell) with its suspense and sumptuous cinematography (Mike Eley). Unfortunately, at this point, the characterization goes into the absurd, especially in regard to the character Philip. Granted, infatuation with a beautiful person can make both men and women seem fools at times, but the ensuing turn of events stretches plausibility. The film tries to “explain” Philip’s obsession (orphan, lack of experience with women) and leave the ending scenes ambiguous but still plausible, but it didn’t carry me along. One clue was that the screening audience laughed at scenes that were supposed to be serious.
The set-up of this film was wonderful, it’s just too bad it couldn’t follow through with clever intrigue and turns of events. And we were in no way prepared for the ending, not in the sense that it threw us for a loop, but that it had a hint of a deux ex machina quality to it (i.e., we’ll just throw this in to make you scratch your heads). I haven’t had the privilege to read du Maurier’s novels, but I would guess she managed to end her stories better than this one did.
On the other hand, Rachel Weisz is a supreme actress who is able to convey beauty, sincerity, mysteriousness, and depth of character in all her roles, and keeps us captivated. Sam Claflin (Me Before You, Hunger Games) is well cast and shows his ability in portraying a flawed character with the best of intentions. Holliday Grainger, Iain Glen, and Pierfrancesco Favino provide fine supporting work.
A beautifully filmed, mostly engaging story of an ill-fated character.