out of Five
Running time: 86
Opens London Film Festival: 24th October
General release: 18th November
Engaging drama that doesn’t quite pull off its transition from thriller to emotional drama, but compensates with strong performances, particularly from Tom Wilkinson.
Separate Lies is written and directed by actor Julian Fellowes, who won an Oscar in 2002 with his screenplay for Gosford Park
and makes his directorial debut here. The press notes for the film reveal Fellowes’ stated intention of creating a moral maze
, where the audience are never quite sure whose side they’re on. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite succeed.
Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson play James and Anne Manning, a seemingly perfect upper-middle class couple with both a house in London (where James works as a respected international lawyer) and a sprawling country estate in Buckinghamshire.
However, when their cleaning lady (Linda Bassett) loses her husband in a tragic hit-and-run incident, cracks begin to appear in James and Anne’s relationship. Things aren’t improved by the constant presence of posh neighbour Bill Bule (Rupert Everett) and it isn’t long before secrets and lies are flying about all over the place.
The dialogue is delightfully stiff upper-lipped throughout but the script doesn’t quite manage the transition from intriguing thriller to emotional drama, largely because the drama elements aren’t as compelling.
That said, in attempting the transition, Fellowes makes a daring decision to get the surprise confessions out of the way as early as possible, with a casual sort of offhandedness that works really well, resulting in the film’s best scenes.
Tom Wilkinson is superb as James, convincingly portraying a man who is powerless to stop his marriage disintegrating around him. (He may even bag himself another Oscar nomination). Watson is good too, although the film would have been a lot more interesting if her character had been more sympathetic.
Everett plays his posh bastard routine to perfection, resisting the urge to milk it for laughs.
Whilst Linda Bassett almost steals the film with her quietly devastating performance as Maggie.
In short, it’s a shame the film chooses to abandon its intriguing moral dilemma, but it remains watchable thanks to Wilkinson and Bassett’s performances.