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My Cousin Rachel
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that My Cousin Rachel is a period drama based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier and starring Rachel Weisz. It has more sex and violence than many movies set in similar eras. There's a moment of sexual violence in which a man holds a woman's arms and demands "kiss me!" while she says forcefully to stop and let her go; he briefly chokes her. Another disturbing scene shows the aftermath of a woman and a horse falling off a cliff; viewers see her dead and face-down, and while the horse is initially still moving, it's soon shot (off screen) and then lies still. A couple has sex on the ground with their clothes on; the man thrusts and moans while the woman looks stoic. After they're finished, she borrows his handkerchief and, turning away from the camera, raises her skirt to clean up. A man is briefly visible naked from behind when he jumps into the water. Language is mostly clean, but there is one "f--king," as well as a "s--t" and a "damn." A character smokes a pipe, and party and dinner guests drink liquor and wine; one character gets drunk and sloppy while waiting for a picnic to start.
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What's the story?
Based on the 1951 novel by Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca), MY COUSIN RACHEL is set at a 19th-century Cornwall estate, where Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin) was taken in by his much-adored cousin Ambrose as a child. On a sojourn to Italy, Ambrose meets and marries Rachel (Rachel Weisz), whom he first describes to Philip as an angel and then, in later letters, as a demon who's determined to destroy him. Terrified, Philip sets out for Italy; he finds Ambrose dead and learns that he has inherited both Ambrose's estate and the care of his cousin's new widow. Soon Rachel is installed in Cornwall, charming everyone around her except the neighbor who loves Philip from afar, Louise (Holliday Grainger), and arousing Philip's sympathies to the point that he gives her an allowance, and later, the whole estate. But what are her plans for Philip and the estate? Is she an innocent woman who merely wishes to make her way in the world? Or a black widow drawing Philip into her web?
Is it any good?
Mysterious, deliberate, and nuanced, this slow-burning drama could well bore the pants off teens but holds enchantment for fans of Du Maurier and vintage British dramas. Expect candles, beds with draperies, bonnets, bumpy wagon rides, and scything -- as well as a modern-minded female character who may or may not be up to no good in pursuit of money. Weisz's Rachel is a complicated woman who alternately plies Philip with motherly and carnal attentions, for reasons the drama never quite makes clear. Is she pulling a con job in the most effective way possible, taking all of Philip's money while convincing him it's his idea? Or is she a sincerely grieving widow who's reeling from the aggressive attentions of yet another man who wants too much from her?
The long moments when characters sit slowly drinking tea, reading letters out loud, or tossing bales of hay around a barn make My Cousin Rachel's sudden, shocking scenes of sex and violence all the punchier. In between, it may seem like not much happens, but all the drama is in Weisz's expressive face and her presence, which is so strong that even when she's off screen, all the other characters are gossiping and/or speculating about her. It all builds to a shocking, enigmatic climax that won't settle any arguments about her character but will provide plenty of conversation after the movie's over. It's not showy, but it's riveting nonetheless.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence and sex in My Cousin Rachel. Do you expect to see this kind of content in a period drama? Why or why not? Do you think it's an accurate portrayal of things that might actually have happened then?
What do movie reviewers mean when they call a film "period"? How does this movie indicate what time period it's set in? How do you think the story would change if it were set in modern times?
Who is the main character? How can you tell? How does a movie signal which characters are important and which character is the main one?
How does the movie handle the way that women were treated during the time it was set? How do the female characters respond to that treatment?
Why do you think dramas so frequently revolve around money: who has it, who wants it, who's getting it by means fair and foul? What's dramatic or interesting about this particular storyline? What other dramas can you name that center on money?
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