Separate Lies

Director: Julian Fellowes

Halfway through the debut film of Julian Fellows (the Academy Award winning writer of Gosford Park), a man named James meets his wife’s lover Bill for lunch. While their relationship with the same woman lies underneath the dialogue as delicious subtext in the minds of viewers as they discuss topics even more intriguing such as manslaughter, guilt, implications and alibis, the love triangle and power struggle of the men is always present as the camera swirls around the characters back and forth in an off-balance and circular motion, illustrating the unsteady states of the men in that very moment. Based on the novel Through The Wood by Nigel Balchin, the film begins as an overly polite character drama of a comfortably married but bored childless couple that consists of the middle-aged, high priced solicitor James (the always underrated Tom Wilkson) and his much younger, beautiful wife Anna (Emily Watson) who finds herself alone in the country during most evenings as her husband’s work schedule grows increasingly demanding. Therefore, it’s only a matter of time that the neglected Anna seeks amusement elsewhere in the form of her dashing, wealthy, and unemployed man-of-leisure neighbor Bill (Rupert Everett), who’s only too happy to distract her from her loneliness as a stereotypical “trophy wife,” (made all the more intriguing by the curious casting of usually type-cast serious, brainy Watson as the overly blonde and sexy housewife, not to mention the gay Everett as a heterosexual lothario). While this does sound like the making of a typical soap opera, it’s all handled with tact and intriguing twists as Fellowes respects his audience’s intelligence enough not to let the film fall into any clich├ęs and all infidelity occurs off-screen, as the film quickly becomes a complicated and engrossingly sophisticated crime drama when the two lovers are involved in a serious crime and then must enlist the help of James in order to save them all, while each at an emotional boiling point trying desperately not to unravel. From the previews, the film appeared to be in the same vein as The End of the Affair meets a PBS styled mystery, but it’s clever and had me on the edge-of-my-seat throughout—a nice surprise all around with stellar performances.