Probably best known to American audiences for winning an Oscar for his “Gosford Park” screenplay, Brit Julian Fellowes has the kind of career so many can only dream about. As a hailed novelist and actor, Fellowes can now add director to his list of captions with his debut behind the camera, “Separate Lies.”
Based on the novel “A Way Through The Wood” by Nigel Balchin, the story follows James Manning (Tom Wilkinson, “Batman Begins”) and his wife, Anne (Emily Watson, “Red Dragon”), whose marriage is complicated by the introduction of Bill (Rupert Everett, “My Best Friend’s Wedding”) and a mystery of a man on a bike who was hit by a car near the Manning household.
“Separate Lies” is more of a morality tale than a whodunit, and Fellowes does a remarkable job in creating a tense atmosphere among the stuffy upper class in Britain. The tragic accident – shown in quick flashes – is the catalyst of the film’s real drama.
The ever-enigmatic Tom Wilkinson gives an Oscar-caliber performance with incredible precision. As a husband with a breaking heart, Wilkinson brings sympathy to a man, who, for once, is forced to break the rules. Watson is luminous as a housewife who cracks under the pressure of not being perfect enough, and Everett shines as a man who also has plenty of emotional baggage.
Unfortunately, like the accident that triggers the events of the film, “Separate Lies” is a short affair at 87 minutes – but it often feels longer. The film’s story arc is reasonably developed, and the emotional sprawls of the characters are fully realized. But there are moments when the story moves too quickly, and perhaps a bit too much of it is based on mere coincidence. At once, the ending is overdone and anti-climactic.
With awards season just getting under way, and without tremendous buzz behind it, “Separate Lies” is bound to get lost in the shuffle despite the enormous pedigree behind it. While its scope isn’t exactly Best Picture material, the film can only hope that Wilkinson and Watson’s performances will be remembered at the year’s end.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars