For me, there are few films that are brave enough to offer no resolution to a main question at the end of the film. Most of the time an answer is needed in order for a satisfying ending and a happy audience. BUT in the case of films that pose a mystery an answer before the credits roll isn’t always needed if the story is played out right.
Hitchcock’s Suspicion comes to mind. The question is whether Joan Fontaine’s new mysterious husband Cary Grant is trying to kill her or not. For me, the film would have been superb if it had ended on the fantastic shot of Grant walking up the stairs into darkness carrying a glass of milk to his wife, which is the only lit object. You’re meant to wonder whether he has put poison in it or not. Unfortunately the studios intervened and not only wanted an answer but it was to be a happy one.
However, despite the studio meddling with Roger Michell’s adaptation, which he penned himself as well as directed, he was given, what seems freedom to leave the question open. Did Rachel try and kill her cousin Philip or not? We’ll never know and it’s perfect that way.
More of a mystery drama than a romantic drama as it has been described, the film, based on Daphne Du Maurier’s novel, is about Philip Ashley, an orphan taken in by his older cousin Ambrose who is the owner of a large estate. But over the years, Ambrose’s health goes into decline so he moves to Italy where he meets the mysterious widow, Rachel. It is through letters that Philip receives word about his cousin’s health, his sudden marriage to Rachel and then his suspicions about her. After Ambrose’s death, Philip becomes the heir and wants revenge on Rachel for his beloved cousin’s death. But plans change when she arrives as Philip becomes infatuated with her to the point of obsession. She both feeds this and rejects it at various times, making Philip question her feelings especially when he starts to loose him mind.
Originally set in Cornwall, Michell changed this, using various locations across South West of England (and Italy) wanting to avoid the ‘Poldark’ comparisons. This seems a shame, as Du Maurier is known for her Cornwall set stories. Despite this change, the locations used were still breathtakingly beautiful, especially as certain Cliffside path.
Watching Rachel wrap Philip round her little finger is both excruciating and fascinating. The story plays back and forth and you are purposely left to make up your own mind about whether Rachel did kills Ambrose and tries to kill Philip too which leaves the story open to discussion. Rachel Weisz is brilliant at the enigmatic cousin of the title and doesn’t given anything away. At the Q & A after the film’s screening, Roger Michell spoke about the 1952 adaptation of the novel and that the original director quit when Olivia de Havilland was casting saying she wasn’t right for the role because ‘she had no secrets’. Weisz on the other hand does and she is perfectly cast.
It may not be the greatest period drama you’ll see this year but it is a compelling story, keeping you guessing even after the end, with a great cast and amazing candle lit scenes may I add.
For all the Londoners out there or those visting, why not come along to a screening at BFI Southbank over June and July: its Dustin Hoffman season!
As Dustin Hoffman, the ‘unlikely’ leading man, turns 80 this year we celebrate his stellar career. Highlights range from The Graduate to Tootsie, from All The President’s Men to Kramer v. Kramer.
“I grew up thinking a movie star had to be like Rock Hudson or Tab Hunter, certainly nobody in any way like me.”
Want to see Hoffman’s best characters? BFI are offering 2 tickets for the price of 1! Simply quote HONEST241 when booking.