Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. United Kingdom/USA, 2017. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Free Range Films. Screenplay by Roger Michell, based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier. Cinematography by Mike Eley. Produced by Kevin Loader. Music by Rael Jones. Production Design by Alice Normington. Costume Design by Dinah Collin. Film Editing by Kristina Hetherington.
Orphaned Sam Claflin was raised by his loving, older cousin (also played by Claflin) who, once his ward has arrived at adulthood, spends his last few years in southern Europe for the good of his health. Knowing that his guardian took a wife before dying, the younger Claflin is determined to enact vengeance on what he believes is a gold-digging black widow, but when she moves into his estate our hero is overwhelmed by the mysterious woman’s beauty (in the form of the always bewitching Rachel Weisz). Weisz provokes a coming of age within Claflin’s young and innocent heart that soon becomes an obsession with him, inspiring him to throw his entire inheritance over to her and abandon his previous affection for his godfather’s daughter (Holliday Grainger, who is excellent). When he starts to feel unwell after drinking the strange brews of Italian teas that his gorgeous roommate makes for him, feeling her pull away from his affection for her, Claflin goes back to his initial suspicions and wonders if he wasn’t right to think her a schemer and not the innocent victim of her circumstances. Roger Michell’s sumptuous adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s 1951 novel, filmed almost immediately in 1952 starring Richard Burton (in his breakout) and Olivia de Havilland in the lead roles, gives you everything you love about the great source author’s writing: a decaying mansion that presents the ghost of former aristocratic power, the sexual intrigue of two people who are in a constantly heightened emotional state (which is always Du Maurier’s specialty) and the hint of crime and sin behind everyone’s behaviour be it good or bad. The moral grey zones that this story takes you to are fascinating, not to mention its serious critique of the way feminine morality is viewed in a world that overrates male authority. Weisz responds to Claflin’s decisions, and answers his inquiries, but a great deal of the moral reputation placed on her is more likely the result of his own unchecked, immature desire and the vulnerability it causes in him…whether or not she actually earns the suspicions cast on her is entirely up for discussion until the very end. A subtle and quiet but disturbing story, further proof that Du Maurier was one of the most acute and intelligent observers of human complexity that ever put pen to page.