My Cousin Rachel Movie Ambiguity Explained

My Cousin Rachel is a low key, slow boil movie, with an intriguing right hook of an ending. It's definitely worthy of a conversation anyway.IMDB
Reader Rating9 Votes

I am not necessarily the Downton Abbey type. I mean, I am. But not necessarily so.

Let me come in again.

Just because a movie is all skirts and lace doesn’t mean it isn’t awful.

Nope, that was even worse than my former intro.

Ok, how about this? Just because a movie is a period piece doesn’t mean that it can’t be a mental mindjob through and through. Yeah, that’s better. I mean, look at Lady Macbeth! That is exactly the sort of movie we have here with My Cousin Rachel. And I even enjoyed Lady Macbeth so much that I compiled a list of movies similar to it. Which, I probably ought to add My Cousin Rachel to that list retroactively.

The bottom line is, no matter how a movie is dressed up, or what genre it finds itself ensconced in, there is always the potential that it might right hook you out of left field. (Wait, what? I have no idea.) And that’s what we have today with My Cousin Rachel. I honestly didn’t expect it to be a film I would talk about here. But here we are!

Generally, the movie is about Ambrose Ashley, an owner of a large estate who is caring for his orphaned cousin Philip. Ambrose, through an illness, heads off to Italy to convalesce. Being single his whole life, Ambrose had never concerned himself with the need for a wife. But Philip begins getting reports back that Ambrose is in love… oh, and then dead. The entirety of the movie is 100% about the ambiguity between that love bit, and that dead bit. Have you seen it?!? Do you realize what you are missing here people… here, watch this:

Haven’t seen the movie yet?? You can watch it right here in one of the superlative streaming locations:

HERE BE DRAGONS!!! I mean, spoilers.

Deep Dive On My Cousin Rachel

So, because this movie is so good, and because basically all I do here on THiNC. is spoil movies for people… I plan to walk you through what actually happened in this movie, and then I’ll walk you through what happened in both Phillip’s head, and Rachel’s head. Ok? Because that’ll be the only way to get to the bottom of what actually happened in this movie. Got it? Good. So what that means is, if you’ve not seen this movie… respectfully depart. Thanks. (But then come back in all haste. [Said in my best British accent… which is a decidedly convoluted mix of Michael Palin and John Cleese doing their old woman accent…])

I’m sorry. Where was I? Oh yes. Rachel.

As I said in the intro, the movie concerns itself on this whole Rachel business. Because Rachel is the woman that “Fell In Love” with Ambrose while he was in Italy. While receiving the letters from his guardian/father Ambrose, Phillip began to get a very shady feeling about this Rachel woman whom Ambrose had “fallen in love with.” Some of his letters were frightened. Others euphoric. And so, being concerned, Phillip books it (as fast as a non-plane invented epoch can book it) to Italy. And when he makes it to the villa Sangalletti, he learns that Ambrose has already died. Not only that, but Rachel has left the villa. Like, gone gone. And so Phillip departs, and heads back to Cornwall. But soon after he gets back he gets a letter via his godfather Nick (who has a beautiful daughter, who, apparently, Phillip is supposed to marry once he gets a clue and realizes it) which tells him two things. The first is that they now have the death certificate, and it states that the cause of death is a brain tumor. Which is important because Philip assumed he was murdered, or something. And secondly, that Ambrose had never changed the will in Rachel’s favor……. so duh, Phillip is still the heir.

Better yet!? Rachel is coming. But Ambrose is certain she will be an evil witch. And of course, Ambrose and Rachel immediately are smitten with each other in spite of the fact that Phillip has never taken a second glance at a woman in his life. Along the way Phillip gets another letter from Ambrose, written before he passed away, talking about Rachel’s carelessness with money and that maybe, just maybe, she might be trying to poison him. Or something. (We’ll get to the or something in due time. Chill the flip out.)

Heading into the moment when he would receive the entire estate as his own, on his 25th birthday, Phillip attempts to give a necklace to Rachel, but alas, is rebuffed by Nick & Co. But on his 25th birthday, Phillip gives her everything. The jewels, the estate, everything. Even in spite of the fact that she was seriously overdrawn against the allotment he’d given her previously. Phillip and Rachel make love, and all is well in the world of Cornwall. But Phillip places a clause in the will, that if Rachel ever marries, everything would revert back to himself. Because… you see… duh… he figured, Rachel would obviously want him, and that she wouldn’t care if the money was hers, or his… but that the money would slosh from him, to her, to him again, in one big happy love fest.

This kid is a right idiot.

REGARDLESS, that night with Nick and his daughter, and Rachel, Phillip decides to profess his love for her and to ask Rachel to marry him. Welp, that doesn’t go as expected. And Rachel leaves. Eventually Phillip falls ill, and he’s in and out of his raving stupor, and eventually comes to. Rachel has taken care of him, giving him special tea to help him get better. But Phillip flips into paranoia mode, and realizes that the same thing that happened to Ambrose was happening to him. She was poisoning him. Has to be.

Jump to the ending, and Rachel heads out for a horse ride before heading down to London, and Phillip recommends the cliff pass. Well, that wasn’t nice of him at all, because he knew that that pass was completely unsafe. And sure enough, Rachel and her horse, fall to their deaths.

Cut to, Phillip and Louise (Phillip’s Godfather’s daughter) happily married and with child.

Fade to black.

My Cousin Rachel Unhinged

So the magic of this film (and the book, though the ending of the book is a bit different… by that I mean, Rachel doesn’t die from falling off a cliff but rather from walking on an unstable garden trellis. Had to read the book the moment the movie was over. Yes, I may have done that the wrong way round, but oh well) is that the truth of what was really happening balanced upon the blade of a knife. Was Rachel unraveling Phillip in order to fleece him of his money? Or was Phillip a paranoid schizophrenic? I think the only way to figure it out? Look at the events from both character’s perspectives.

Philip’s Vantage of What Happened in My Cousin Rachel

Philip, an orphan, was loved by Ambrose. Ambrose had zero need for women. But, falling ill, he heads to Italy and falls for a woman. The letters tell everything anyone would ever need to know about what happened! Ambrose wrote it with his own hand. Rachel was after his money! Her herbs and teas were poisoning him! He was obviously murdered by his wife.

But when she arrives at their home, Philip forgets all that and is instantly smitten with this dowager Queen of a woman. Right? But soon enough he remembers the letters. The Dowager has refused the overtures of love and marriage! And now, suddenly that she has the property and the jewels, Phillip is falling ill? Could it be the teas and Rachel’s vast knowledge of plants? Could it be that Rachel is striking him dead slowly but surely? And what of this Italian that she keeps returning to? Are they a pair, a duo bent on misfortune!? They must be!!! So, obviously, she is a villain that needs to die. And so it makes perfect sense that Phillip would direct Rachel to the cliff path for her ride. Obviously it would make sense.

Rachel’s Vantage of What Happened in My Cousin Rachel

Rachel was happily content with her gay friend Rainaldi and her villa in the warm countryside villa Sangalletti. The spend the time making fun teas and catching butterflies. When all of a sudden, Ambrose, a down on his luck, pale skinned Englishman, that is ill from some sort of British drama epidemic. So why don’t we take him in, make him tea, and woah! He fell in love with me?!? Wha? He’s proposing? Well ok!?

In the meantime, Ambrose, do come hither and tell me of the hillocks and the various named copse of trees about your estate, so that I will recognize them when I finally get there! Wha!? Ambrose is getting worse? More tea! Fetch the doctor! And please don’t yell at me Ambrose, I am only attempting to help you get better!

Cut to dead Ambrose, and a journey to England to see the land of my departed love’s life. And who is this boy that is so pouty and forlorn? He looks exactly like Ambrose. He’s the spitting image. And WHAT? He fell in love with me too? Well, ok, I’ll have a necklace, but only because it will make you happy. And the teas? They are especially made to remind me of Ambrose, and to show you my love for all things Italy. Nothing more. And sure, Phillip, I get it that you don’t like Rainaldi Phillip… so I’ll keep him out of the way in the town. Have I MENTIONED LATELY THAT HE’S GAY? And now you’ve fallen ill my dear platonic Phillip? Man. Some girls have all the horrible luck. I guess I’ll go for a ride and lick my wounds. Where should I go Phillip? The cliff path you say? Ok…

Theories that Explain My Cousin Rachel

I think the views about this movie fall neatly in a couple of camps. The Pro-Phillip camp. The Pro-Rachel camp. And the final theory would maybe be an amalgam, Life Is Messy view that maybe lands somewhere in the middle. But with this movie, I think we got a bit of evidence that decidedly answers the question as to which theory is at work here.

At the end of the movie, we see a scene, where Phillip and Louise are happily riding in the estate’s carriage. They are bedecked in radiant outfits, and are lacking for nothing. How could this be? The only way is if Rachel didn’t actively redirect the estate away from Phillip. But that was what Phillip and Nick, and Louise were all worried about. Rachel was seriously overdrawn. She was sending money out of the country! Ack! She was burying the family in debt to send the cash of the Cornwall estate out to the marauding Italians! But wait, Rainaldi turned out to be gay, and nothing but a friend. And this invisible threat from the Italians never materialized. And better yet, Rachel didn’t actually craft a will to take away the estate from Philip. She didn’t siphon off the estate’s money. She didn’t sabotage him actively. But why would that be? She was trying to kill him, wasn’t she? Or not.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this movie was the right hook at the end. The surprise twist. No, in fact, Rachel wasn’t trying to kill you. And you know what? You are actually the one that is going insane. You are the one with a brain tumor and a madness that makes no sense. The worst bit? Phillip is the murderer in this tale. He knowingly sent her via the cliff trail. Knowingly sent her to her death. And so that final scene that we see with the carriage? That is just a dark reprieve from what Louise is about to realize about her prince charming, Phillip. And it isn’t going to be good.

I don’t know, Did Rachel kill Ambrose? Is Phillip innocent? Thoughts?

Edited by, CY