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
Although this film is set amongst the sophisticated English upper classes it is a simple story of a couple torn asunder. It has a slightly dated air, being an adaptation of "A Way Through the Wood", a 1950 novel by Nigel Balchin (once hugely popular and now forgotten). Julian Fellowes, who despite an academy award for the script of "Gosford Park", has a somewhat anachronistic persona himself, wrote the script and directed (the latter for the first time). With the DVD version I saw there is a most illuminating audio commentary by Julian. His primary focus was on getting his characters right, and by and large he has succeeded. In this he was helped by two outstanding performances from Tom Wilkinson as James, the stitched up City lawyer, and Emily Watson as his attractive wife Anne. He also kept it short; the running time is only 80 minutes.
James and Anne have a town house in Chelsea and a comfortable former vicarage in Buckinghamshire. Anne is some years younger but they are childless. Outwardly they seem happy, but James, one of nature's moralists (unusual for a city lawyer), is a control freak. Just down the road is the aristocratic the Hon. William Buel, who is not one for middle-class morality, and he is more than happy to take advantage. But there's a complication, a road accident, in which an elderly cyclist is knocked over in a country lane by a ruthlessly driven Range Rover just like the Hon. Bill's. Soon James, Anne, Bill and the victim's widow (who happens to be James' and Anne's cleaner) are drawn in to a conspiracy to conceal what really happened. The primary focus is on the corrosive effect of all this on James and Anne's relationship.
The third person in this ménage a trios, Bill, is played by Rupert Everett. From the point of view of casting, his languid, superior manner is right for the part, yet somehow he doesn't quite get there. Partly this is because he is supposed to be sick for some of the time and he looks well when he is supposed to be sick, and vice-versa. The part seems underdeveloped. It is interesting that John Neville as Bill's father who has only one significant scene manages to establish his character beautifully in the time he has.
The world of five star hotels and superior restaurants is nicely evoked. As Julian Fellowes says in the audio commentary, these people are able to convince themselves that the Edwardian age still exists. At bottom though, the film is about what draws a couple together and what tears them apart. Nigel Balchin was going through a marriage break-up when he wrote the book, and Fellowes has made a good fist of conveying the atmosphere. As he says, his is a fairly free adaptation, but the central theme is the same.
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