Roger Michell’s adaptation is not the first cinematic reimagining of Daphne Du Maurier’s popular 1951 novel – as Richard Burton and Olivia De Havilland teamed up on screen. You would think that given the illustrious actors attached, that a modern retelling would fail to bring out performances as accomplished, but it’s something that Sam Claflin and Rachel Weisz have achieved, with the former in particular turning in a career best performance.
Claflin appears briefly as Ambrose, tasked with raising his orphaned cousin Philip, only to move to Italy and leave the child with his dearest friend (Iain Glen). Philip is now in his 20s (also portrayed by Claflin), maturing at a rapid speed, only to knocked back by the news of Ambrose’s passing, leaving behind a widow, Rachel Ashley (Weisz). She heads to England to grieve, she’s the life and soul of the party and Philip becomes obsessed with her, falling in love – only to discover she feels the same way. Throwing gifts her way at every given opportunity, this upsets old friend Louise (Holliday Grainger) who believed she would one day be Philip’s wife. But he’s too far gone to turn back, and while close friends of family warn him she may have be manipulating him for money, he blindly carries on, until doubts start creeping in to his own mind.
The performances from both leads are so strong it’s hard to imagine they should this out of story order, for the respective journeys both characters go on, experiencing every range of emotion during their tempestuous affair, are so well-crafted and believable, it feels like it could only have been done chronologically. The most prominent, engaging stage we see Philip go through is that of pure infatuation, to an uncomfortable degree, as he becomes like a pet, following her around the house, constantly wanting to impress her. He’s pathetic for the most part, and this is why there was a concern at having an older actor take on the role, as you feel that the character’s juvenile character traits would be more believable in a younger man, but Claflin captures the blissful immaturity perfectly. Weisz on the other hand is vitally beguiling, and given the character’s intentions remain so blurred, she needs to be mysterious too, and she gets the balance spot on.
Though telling an immensely dramatic, complex tale, the film thrives in its subtlety, with so much to take in, and so much you may even miss. In that case you may just have to see this one in the cinema and then stick it on your Christmas list. There will be much worse in your library at home than this, believe me.