Review: My Cousin Rachel

Set in 19th Century England, Richard Burton plays a young man who has grown up idolising his guardian John Sutton (making the most of a brief role), who years later sends Burton letters indicating that his new wife Rachel (Olivia De Havilland- wonderfully ambiguous in a role Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh thankfully turned down), whom he romanced in Italy, is trying to poison him. But upon meeting his ‘cousin’ Rachel back home (after the old man’s eventual death), he becomes intensely infatuated with her. Surely she can’t be a heartless gold-digging black widow? Ronald Squire is perfectly able, as wise counsel to Burton.

Brilliantly moody, expertly acted, 1952 Gothic melodrama from director Henry Koster (“Harvey”, “The Virgin Queen”) deserves to be just as well-known as (and in my view, moreso than) Hitchock’s overrated “Rebecca”, both being film versions of Daphne Du Maurier Gothic mysteries. This one’s got the superbly brooding and intense Burton, outstanding in his first Hollywood outing. It’s one of the most aching and intensely pained performances of his career and was deservingly nominated for an Oscar, though strangely for Supporting, he plays the main frigging character! Plus there’s a terrifically layered (and uncharacteristic) performance by the always excellent De Havilland, who is entirely different from long-suffering cousin Melanie in “Gone With the Wind” (and who keeps you guessing about her character’s intentions from beginning to end- and maybe even afterwards!)..

Wonderfully evocative, Oscar-nominated B&W cinematography by Joseph LaShelle (“Laura”, “Marty”, “The Apartment”), this is a film to look out for, folks, particularly for fans of the stars (who unlike the stiff stars of “Rebecca”, actually make you care about their characters, the fiery Burton especially makes Larry Olivier seem like he was in a coma during “Rebecca”).

Rating: B+


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