Richard Burton plays Philip Ashley, in the 1952 film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s acclaimed novel, My Cousin Rachel.

A constantly brooding, suspicious, miserable character, that we rarely see smile. Even his happiness (in rare moments when he seems to be happy) is superficial, taunted by his skeptical nature. His mental state, stained by the loss of his favourite cousin, who raised him, and with the guilt of harbouring lustful desires for a woman who might be the reason for his cousin’s untimely demise, eating away at him; Philip Ashley is never at peace. AND this character is portrayed with pure perfection, by the brilliant British Shakespearean actor, Richard Burton. Predominantly a British star, the UK’s Cornwall set My Cousin Rachel (1952) was Burton’s first foray into Hollywood and it earned him a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor in 1953.

Olivia de Havilland plays the ambiguous character of Rachel, in My Cousin Rachel (1952)

Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel is about an orphaned kid, Philip, who is brought up by his wealthy cousin, Ambrose Ashley (played by John Sutton in the movie). Ambrose, while away in Italy, meets the widowed Contessa Sangalletti (a.k.a. Rachel), a distant cousin of theirs, and Ambrose and Rachel soon marry. But their marital bliss is short lived, as Ambrose dies of a brain tumour. Yet before his death, he manages to plant the seeds of suspicion on young Philip’s mind, that she’s been poisoning him. Thus, when Rachel comes over to Ambrose’s Cornwall estate, no matter how nice a person she seems to be, Philip is never at peace. He has a love-hate relationship with her; and he suffers throughout, due to the seeds of distrust having taken root in his mind. Even in the end, he is in agony, wondering whether she was guilty or innocent. Something that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

I really liked the ambiguous ending, for we never truly find out about Rachel, though we do feel she might be more innocent than guilty. She’s not a perfect person, but she most probably didn’t murder her husband, nor try to to kill off Philip, as he suspects. And as we get to know later, she doesn’t have any intention of taking over Ambrose’s estate, she doesn’t expect a dime. It’s all left to Philip.

With no real interest in making it in Hollywood, Richard Burton joined this project, due to the recommendation of director George Cukor (whom Burton had great respect for). Originally Cukor was planning to direct this cinematic adaptation of du Maurier’s Gothic novel. But when Cukor and du Maurier, read the first draft of the screenplay, they felt it was unfaithful to the novel, and were both disappointed. So Cukor dropped out. However the project went ahead, without Cukor, and the movie was ultimately directed by Henry Koster. The end result, though different to the novel, was excellent; mainly thanks to Burton’s brilliant acting talent, along with the rest of the cast. Even du Maurier was pleased with Burton’s performance, as well as certain shots filmed in the real Cornwall; but felt de Havilland didn’t capture the mystery of the character of Rachel, well enough. Even though I haven’t read the book, I agree, I felt de Havilland’s performance was quite lukewarm. She wasn’t bad, in fact she was interesting enough; but far from great. Then again the character she played was quite ambiguous, and hard to judge. None the less, the film is excellent; Burton Brilliant; and the cinematography by Joseph LaShelle, hauntingly beautiful. The Cornwall setting and the beach play quite an important role in this story, but I noticed it’s not as significant to the plot, as much as it (especially the representation of the beach) was, in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca; the 1940 film adaptation of which (by Alfred Hitchcock, starring de Havilland’s sister, Joan Fontaine) went on to win Oscars, for Best Picture and Best Cinematography. 1952’s My Cousin Rachel, was nominated for four Academy Awards, including one for Richard Burton (his 1st Oscar nomination), but it won none. Burton never won an Oscar, though he was nominated seven times, altogether.

Apparently, Olivia de Havilland didn’t get along with Richard Burton, whom she hated. She felt he was coarse, crude, unsophisticated. But then again, growing up, she wasn’t very kind to her own sister, Fontaine. Today, amazingly, Olivia de Havilland, is the one who is still alive. Most notable for her role as the kindly ‘Melanie Hamilton’, in Gone with the Wind (1939), de Havilland turned 102, on 1st July 2018, surpassing younger sister, Joan Fontaine, who passed away on 15th December 2013, less than two months after her 96th Birthday!

Olivia de Havilland, Audrey Dalton and Richard Burton, in a scene from My Cousin Rachel (1952)

Back in my teens, in the early 1990’s, I watched the 1983 BBC television mini-series, based on My Cousin Rachel, which apparently is comparatively more faithful to the novel, and which I loved too. YET, I loved this classic movie adaptation, I saw end of September 2018, online on Youtube, with not that clear a sound, and re-watched day before, even more. Although, if my memory serves me right, I do feel, Geraldine Chaplin in the 83′ version, most probably did more justice to the role of Rachel.

Recently there was another film adaptation of this book, released last year (2017), directed by Roger Michell, and starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin, in the lead. Am yet to see this newer version, which has had some mixed reviews.

My Cousin Rachel (1952)

My Rating: Excellent – 10/10!!!!!!!!!!

Bookish Nuwan
Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense

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This Blog Post, is my contribution to the, REGALING ABOUT RICHARD BURTON BLOGATHON, hosted by Gill of Real Weegie Midget!!!!!

Thank you Gill, for letting me take part in this Blogathon, dedicated to a such prolific British Actor of the Stage and Screen!

Nuwan Sen (NSFS)

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