Screen » Film

Dispassionate Lies

Excellent directorial debut lacks heat


A simple cultural observation solidified by several experiences in the United Kingdom—and one that's often made the source of a casual laugh at the expense of the queen's subjects—is that ever present notion that the English are so bloody polite.

"Oh, right," says the businessman's mistress/secretary, "your wife's lover has died. Dear me, what awful news. Please do tell her I'm sorry."

Businessman to wife: "My coworkers all passes on their condolences. I'm very sorry as well, my dear. I was just wondering, will you be home in time to make summer pudding for this weekend's party?"

Separate Lies may not be entirely emotionally stone-faced but it certainly borders on the realm of non-belief in asking its audience to suspend disbelief long enough to become fully and convincingly engrossed in the 85-minute film. The most frustrating part of the film is the lack of chemistry and the almost complete absence of evidence of an affair between Anne Manning (Emily Watson) and William Bule (Rupert Everett). Separate Lies is devoid of any on screen love scenes, a welcome change from the recent trend toward explicit sexual cinematography, but only two brief scenes actually put the characters together romantically. Much of Anne's behavior regarding her life-changing love affair is even apathetic.

Married to successful London solicitor James Manning (Tom Wilkinson), Anne is a diligent housewife, cooking and looking after her husband in every aspect of their lives as they live between their London flat during the week and a comfortable country home on the weekends. Narrated by James, who introduces the audience to the couple's flawless life in which they worry about such mundane things as holes in the lavender hedge, the story folds into itself, looping and knotting end on end to create a patchwork mess of present relationships haunted by past mistakes. Suddenly the Manning's polite, posh life revolves around murder and extra-martial affairs, and despite a natural need to vilify an unloving husband for his wife's infidelity or to blame the wife's callousness for her indiscretions, neither are possible in Separate Lies. James and Anne's marriage resembles so many other successful commitments in that neither Anne nor James are exceedingly unhappy. Both may be a bit bored, but nothing is overtly wrong with their life together. James is a seemingly nice guy, whose biggest faults include being a bit particular and being a bit of a workaholic. Anne's unfailing honesty about her crimes and her infidelity absolves her from any fault in other characters' eyes, no matter how heinous her crimes. Rupert Everett's character as Anne's lover and coconspirator emerges in pieces without ever filling out.

Though a bit emotionally withdrawn, Separate Lies is an excellent directorial debut from Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Tomorrow Never Dies) whose screenplay showcases upper class British life with outstanding acting. Despite the lack of palpable suspense and emotional sincerity, Separate Lies is only truly disappointing to those who have seen the trailer, which undoubtedly outshines its product.