"Was she woman or witch?" asks the trailer for Henry Koster's 1952 adaptation of My Cousin Rachel. Unfortunately, that film proved far tamer than its marketing suggested. Today, Daphne du Maurier, who penned the book, would likely lick her lips in excitement for the second film version, this time from director Roger Michell and starring Rachel Weisz. Tense and at times downright frightening, My Cousin Rachel tells the story of an irresistible woman whose charms take down the male wing of a family, driving its members to madness. Or at least that's what seems to be happening.
In the late 1800s, Philip Ashley's cousin Ambrose has taken ill and left for Italy to convalesce. (Both men are played by Sam Claflin.) Then two letters from Ambrose arrive in quick succession: one announcing his marriage to the "radiant, good" Rachel (Weisz) and the other claiming that this Rachel is trying to kill him. Philip rushes to Italy, but he's too late — Ambrose is dead and buried, and Rachel has moved away.
When at last our anti-heroine arrives, Philip -- who until this point has acted like an MRA intent on negging women -- nearly loses the use of his mouth upon seeing Rachel; she's charming, funny, everything Philip has been told a woman couldn't be.
Soon his adoration turns to a kind of madness. But whether his loss of control is from the copious quantities of special tea Rachel feeds him or from his own inability to remain a respectable human being in a woman's presence remains up in the air. Koster's 1952 adaptation explicitly answers the question of whether Rachel is woman or witch. Michell's suggests that the two aren't mutually exclusive -- and that neither is bad. (April Wolfe)