Daphne du Maurier is one of my favourite writers. I've read more than a few of her works but not this one, an omission which now needs rectifying.
Set in rural England in what I take to be the late-18th century, the prologue shows a young boy being cared for by his guardian right until he returns from having attended school now grown up (Sam Claflin), his guardian whom he worships having been sent to Florence for recuperation from a brain tumour, and from whom he gets mail, first telling him of the lovely young woman he's become acquainted with there (the 'cousin Rachel' of the title) and then, continuing to sing her praises, the two of them marry - his correspondence suddenly becoming more disturbing until, fearing for his life at her hands, he begs his charge to come and help him. Is this for real or just a fancy of his fevered condition? Claflin rushes off to Italy to find that he has only recently just died while she is nowhere to be found. Returning to England, he is determined to seek her out and confront her - though finds out that she has already arrived at his home, which he will inherit on attaining the age of 25, she now the grieving widow seeking the solace of her cousin. He's resolved to have the matter out with her, being convinced that she was responsible for his guardian's demise. When they meet she (Rachel Weisz) turns out to be nothing like what he envisaged and his adversarial stance dissolves as he quickly becomes infatuated with her. He's also attracted to her independent spirit which can be quite forthright at times. So won over is he, in fact, that he refuses to entertain stories of her profligacy and rumours of her unfaithfulness when she was married with his guardian. He even bequeaths to her his greatest treasure, a pearl necklace which belonged to his mother. His blinkered. rose-tinted view of her continues and, against all advice, he formulates his own will, charging his entire state to her possession should he pre-decease her. He inevitably proposes marriage but is perplexed to find that her warm attitude to him changes. Too late and too bad for him! What we, the audience, can see he cannot. Therein lies the film's suspense, and most effective it is too for virtually the entire film, which held my attention without pause.
Two 'downers' for me was that the film's several intimate moments between the romantic couple were conveyed in hardly audible whispers, though I don't think that this was as important as the second - namely that I didn't quite understand a revelation given near the end, which was, presumably, intended to take one's breath away. I can understand what it was - the very final frames showed that up clearly - but it left me with a whole load of questions in my mind on the lines of "But if that was the case, why didn't....". It also left, though only in retrospect, some of the film of the interaction between the couple looking strangely ham-fisted and old-fashioned. Others may well have been carried along with it as a convincing development but for me it proved to be rather less than satisfactory.
All the acting, and the script as well, is of a very high order and the film looks terrific, not burdened by a background score which could easily have been melodramatic but was sensibly kept in check.
Director Roger Michell (also the screenplay writer) has some biggish films on his record, including 'Notting Hill', 'Venus' and 'Le Week-End' - and despite my minor reservations, this one also deserves to stand to his credit...................7.5.