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Separate Lies - Review

Separate Lies

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director Commentary; Inside Look

TOM Wilkinson gives another powerhouse performance in this British potboiler of sex, lies, murder and betrayal that also marks the directorial debut of actor-turned-screenwriter Julian Fellowes.

Fellowes is, of course, the talented scribe behind such classics as Gosford Park, so it’s fascinating to see how he transforms Nigel Balchin’s little-known 1951 novel, A Way Through the Wood, to the big screen.

For the most part, it’s successfully thanks to plenty of twists and the best efforts of a strong ensemble cast.

The film focuses on upper-middle class couple James and Anne Manning (Wilkinson and Emily Watson), whose apparently idyllic existence is about to be shattered by the aftermath of a hit-and-run accident.

The incident in question claims the life of the husband of the Mannings’ cleaning lady (Linda Bassett) and appears to have been the fault of their rich and arrogant neighbour, Bill Bule (Rupert Everett), whose LandRover has scratches in all the wrong places.

James, a successful London lawyer, immediately suspects Bill and informs him of his suspicions over dinner, urging him to go to the police.

But his persistence backfires when it becomes apparent that his wife is involved in some way and he must decide between protecting the wife he holds so dear, his reputation as a lawyer and doing the right thing.

Hence, the movie not only functions as a taut little thriller, but also an intriguing study of morality, providing viewers with plenty of food for thought.

Indeed, the only real shortcoming is Fellowes insistence on keeping things a little too ‘stiff upper-lipped British’.

Given the murky revelations involving illicit sex and subsequent betrayal the film never really gets as dirty as the subject matter suggests.

There is an almost outdated politeness about the way in which business is conducted that threatens to give rise to some unnecessary sniggering among viewers.

Had the gloves really come off, this might have been a great deal more satisfying.

As things stand, the film is enlivened by the terrific Wilkinson, who delivers a masterclass in emotional torment – veering from earnest and friendly to bitter and angry without ever compromising his own sense of integrity.

He is a fascinating and complex character, as heartbreaking as he is inspiring, and the film works best whenever he is on-screen.

Watson, too, is pitch perfect, if totally unsympathetic, but Everett feels strangely subdued and could have done with a little more charisma to explain his bad-boy appeal.

Fellowes’ film also peaks too soon and subsequently draws to a close with a whimper rather than a bang, threatening to leave viewers disappointed.

But for those willing to forgive such shortcomings, there is still plenty to keep them enthralled.

For Fellowes, Separate Lies represents a flawed but fascinating directorial debut. The real triumph, however, belongs to Wilkinson.