A cyclist is killed, swiped by a Range Rover in a village lane. James and Anne Manning become involved because the victim is the husband of their cleaner, Maggie. James, a solicitor in the city, soon comes to suspect William Bule, a millionaire playboy who has moved back to the village. William, pressed by James, confesses to the hit and run. But the confession is clouded by Anne's admission of her affair with William. Written by
Stiff Upper Lip Drawing Room Drama But Wilkinson is Dynamic
"Separate Lies" is a veddy English take on "Unfaithful" and "Crash" crossed with a Ruth Rendell mystery about guilt and responsibility.
The setting is very smoothly established of a high-powered solicitor who works in the City, has a country house and an in town apartment and has everything ordered beautifully and under control, including his wife. The surroundings completely capture the mood. A sense of portent and uneasiness is only introduced with fast flashbacks to a car accident until Emily Watson as the wife starts showing some out of place hairs and breath.
The coincidences are a bit claustrophobically theatrical so that it almost feels like a stage play. For the first half the suspense and revelations keep our attention, but then the film just ducks it all and deteriorates into relationships that are so civilized as to be devoid of emotion or reason. I haven't read the book so don't know if director/adapter Julian Fellowes changed it.
This is the best Tom Wilkinson performance since "In the Bedroom." He holds the film together. He's used so often in films to fulfill the stereotype of a self-satisfied suburban or aristocratic executive that one forgets it can be done with subtlety and verve. This may be the first film that he gets to use so many four letter words with his own accent.
Rupert Everett is so distant and even repellent to every one that it's hard to see his appeal that is critical to the plot. I kept thinking who else could have been cast for at least some magnetism. While it is amusing to see him as a Milord in casual jeans, explained disdainfully that he's been living in America so long that he's practically become an American (a line I've heard in a couple of other Brit movies lately).
While we get a frisson of background on relationships that is supposed to help, it's not enough. All the background and relationships are revealed off screen through talky explication. We certainly can't tell in terms of how people relate. We have to take revelations for their word for it. The injection of old-fashioned Movie Star's Disease makes the characters' interactions get even phonier. And then suddenly there's narration that's unnecessary and jarring. While there's flashes of some action and emotion, this is drawing room drama. That stiff upper lip just gets plain annoying.
There was probably some symbolic significance to a Paris interlude that included a rendez-vous by the Guy de Maupassant statue but if so it was a long time coming for a not worth it punch line.
There's an amusing inside joke of a character watching "Monarch of the Glen" on the TV, as Fellowes was featured in that series.
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