Separate Lies Review

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Solicitor James Manning (Tom Wilkinson) thinks aristocrat Bill Bule (Rupert Everett) is a hit-and-run killer. James’ wife Anne (Emily Watson) confesses she is the guilty party in the accident, and is also having an affair with Bill. The emotional and le

★★★★★

Following sterling work as screenwriter on Gosford Park, former squeaky character actor Julian Fellowes makes his writer-director debut with an adaptation of A Way Through The Wood, a 1951 novel by Nigel Balchin (source author for classic British films Mine Own Executioner and The Small Back Room).

Despite occasional swearing, this is almost laughably stiff-upper-lip. Everyone tries to act reasonably, even during crockery-smashing rows. The plot-starting accident comes as a shock during the opening credits, but is the only action in the film. Instead, Fellowes homes in on the actors as they squirm inside a storyline which suggests English reclamation of the bourgeois death-and-adultery drama territory occupied by French helmer Claude Chabrol (who often adapts British novels).

The reason this film is more than a fossil is that the leads are outstanding. No-one does helplessness in pinstripes better than Wilkinson, while Everett is perfect as the callous, creepily fascinating ‘other man’. And Watson is a melodramatist’s dream as the 1951-style incipiently sexual housewife eaten up by guilt and desire.

Quality acting and writing and appropriately understated direction, but a touch too polite for its own good.