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SEPARATE LIES (director/writer: Julian Fellowes; screenwriter: based on the novel A Way Through the Woods by Nigel Balchin; cinematographer: Tony Pierce-Roberts; editors: Alex Mackie/Martin Walsh; music: Stanislas Syrewicz; cast: Emily Watson (Anne Manning), Tom Wilkinson (James Manning), Rupert Everett (Bill Bule), Linda Bassett (Maggie), Hermione Norris (Priscilla), David Harewood (Inspector Marshall) and John Neville (Lord Rawston); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Christian Colson/Steve Clark-Hall; Fox Searchlight; 2005-UK)
Wilkinson and Watson give sharply observed performances, that don’t allow the film to become a sudser.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Julian Fellowes (“From Time to Time”), the screenwriter for Gosford Park in his directorial debut,is the writer-director of this entertaining and insightful stiff upper lip English infidelity melodrama that concerns itself with the snobbery of the privileged class and creates a morality maze about what is right and wrong. It’s based on the 1951 novel A Way Through the Woodsby Nigel Balchin.

The successful, wealthy, stuffy and brilliant London high-powered corporation lawyerJames Manning (Tom Wilkinson) and his attractive wife Anne (Emily Watson) seem like an ideal couple, who split time between their London townhouse and their country estate in Buckinghamshire. While in their country place, the husband of Mannings’ housekeeper, Maggie (Linda Bassett), is the victim of a hit and run accident during the afternoon. His death happened on the day James misses a cocktail party. Coming home by train late in the evening from work, James is given a ride home from the station by his wife in the car of neighbor William Bule (Rupert Everett) and notices a scratch on his Range Rover. Bule’s the handsome but arrogant and amoral divorced scion of the local lord, who just returned from New York. At the funeral, the suspicious lawyer notices the scratch on Bule’s car has been painted over, and meets with Bule for lunch in London to question him about it. Badgered by the lawyer, Bule confesses his car was involved in the accident and promises to go to the police. When the self-satisfied James tells Ann the news that he got Bule to do the right thing, he’s taken aback to learn that Ann was the driver and that she’s been having an affair with Bule. With the tables turned, James refuses to have his guilt-ridden wife go to the police. He worries this scandal will damage his career. When Chief Inspector Marshall (David Harewood) questions the lawyer, he lies to protect himself and his wife. The loveless marriage, based on security and comfort, begins coming apart further because of the strains regarding the accident and the realization that their marriage is based on a lie. The point being is that their entire life is based on lies, and they can’t see the damage it’s causing.

Wilkinson and Watson give sharply observed performances, that don’t allow the film to become a sudser. The weakest part of the film is the conveniently devised mystery story, as it pales when compared to the sparks flying when the couple try to act out their part as a concerned couple. It was especially poignant when Ann tells James that he’s tough to be with because his standards are so high.There are no sympathetic characters, but Fellowes tries to give each one in the love triangle some love for their difficult position they have staked out for themselves.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”