Julian Fellowes’ Separate Lies is a drama for adults, and that is a rarity in today’s film marketplace. Most films today try and offer something for both the young and old, but Separate Lies dishes up a winding mirage of double-crosses, all wrapped around a tale of infidelity. Fellowes, who wrote and won an Oscar for the brilliant Gosford Park screenplay in 2000, delivers a solid directorial debut around a screenplay (based upon the novel by Nigel Balchin) that is, save for a few missteps, laudable.
The film opens with an unfortunate scenario that sets the stage for the entire film. Blink and you’ll miss it. Because Fellowes liberally adds on developments throughout the film, I will tread carefully here. Tom Wilkinson is James Manning, a successful London attorney who is happily married to Anne (Watson) – or so he thinks. Anne is in fact having an affair with William Bule (Everett), a spoiled brat who provides the illusion of love that James cannot because of his hectic work schedule. Running parallel to that is an underlying plot involving the victims of the accident at the beginning of the film. Lives change, and consequences are dealt.
Fellowes has a knack for character development, as was evident with the ensemble cast in Gosford Park. Here he scripts characters that we can all identify with in some way. We know the intricacies of their relationships and how their lives work, making for a much more believable and true emotional attachment. Fellowes gets carried away, however, with a few developments towards the end of the film that come across as too convenient for the sake of the plot.
Tom Wilkinson is scintillating as James Manning in a performance that is heartbreaking and sobering. There are a precious few actors who can consistently and accurately portray the everyday man, but Wilkinson comes through every time. He nails every emotion and twist that is thrown at his character with ease and realism, and the result is a character that will ultimately be breaking hearts. Emily Watson is strong as the confused Anne, who is fully aware of her wrongdoings but can’t seem to control herself. Watson is especially powerful in a scene in which she explains, in blunt terms, her infidelity to James. Rupert Everett portrays William as penned, but the character is so diluted and detached that at times it is hard to understand why Anne even sees anything in him.
Separate Lies is nevertheless a vigorous drama that will deliver for mature adults. The performances are outstanding and Julian Fellowes once again demonstrates a proficiency in meshing drama and suspense. Separate Lies will satisfy those with more mature cinematic tastes.
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Length: 85 Minutes
Rating: R for language including some sexual references.
Theatrical Release: September 16, 2005 (Limited)
Directed by: Julian Fellowes
Written by: Julian Fellowes. Based upon the novel by Nigel Balchin.
Cast: Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Rupert Everett, Hermione Norris, John Warnaby, Richenda Carey