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3 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Separate Lies
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by Doug Bentin

"No accidents—just self-destruction."
4 stars

Someone once said that Henrik Ibsen’s autumnal tragedies begin where other writers’ melodramas leave off. “Separate Lies,” from the novel “A Way Through the Woods” by Nigel Balchin, would make a wonderful prelude to an Ibsen play.

James Manning (Tom Wilkinson) is a successful London solicitor. He and his wife Anne (Emily Watson) have a flat in town and a house in the country. She thinks the house is for country living and he thinks it’s a place to go to get away from the city. There’s a world of difference in those two mind-sets.

Returning to the village from New York, a bad marriage, and two children whose ages he can’t bother to remember, is William Bule (Rupert Everett), son of the local “milord.” Bule is one of those perpetually bored, lethargic upper-crusters who set the normal run of humanity’s teeth grinding, yet he is as undemanding of others in personal relationships as he expects them to be of him, and that appeals to Anne after years of marriage to the highly expectant Manning.

She talks her reluctant husband into giving a party for the locals, but that evening Manning has to stay in the city to work late. Before the party is set to begin, a speeding car sideswipes a man bicycling along a village lane. The man is hurled to the ground and dies a few days later.

The film makes no bones about this being an accident. It’s a suspenseful story but not a mystery. There is a policeman (David Harewood) trying to bring the miscreant to justice, but the focus of the film is not on his investigation. If anything, he’s just included as a red herring as viewers work at determining just what the movie is about.

Certain facts about the accident are unfolded leisurely—some come as a surprise and some do not—but while the plot deals with the man’s death and who is responsible, the movie is actually about the three people at the center of the tale and the way their relationships shift as each lie is exposed and each truth inches the characters closer to hell.

Wilkinson (“Batman Begins,” “Eternal Sunshine,” “In the Bedroom,” “Shakespeare in Love”) has become one of our best common man actors. You may not be able to put a face to the name, but you would know the face. I love it when an outstanding character actor starts to get lead roles but remains a character actor.

Here you can see Manning’s inner collapse in the actor’s expressions and body language. Wilkinson is superb at displaying a kind of bewilderment that morphs into despair. It’s not the bewilderment of stupidity or non-understanding. It’s more a look that expresses disbelief that this sort of thing can happen to a man like me. I’m organized, I’m successful, I’m educated. Melodrama plays no part in my life. How can this be happening?

Emily Watson (“Corpse Bride,” “Red Dragon,” “Gosford Park”) has lost the quirky, sunny edge she usually brings to a role and gives us the melancholy of a wife who knows her bad choices will create nothing but fleeting pleasure and permanent sadness, and yet can’t help but make them. It’s as if Anne were born to go wrong, not in a criminal or physically self-destructive way, but spiritually. She’s given up long ago all hope for happiness. Then she gave up on contentment. Now she’s willing to take whatever’s left.

Rupert Everett (“Shrek II,” “The Importance of Being Earnest”) has also abandoned his usual cheeriness and bravado for pure arrogance. Bule is like Hugh Grant’s character in “About a Boy” but without the delusion of contentment. We don’t get the clues we need to discern his ultimate fate until late in the story, and then questions about his motivation come to mind. Sorry to be so vague, but I don’t want to do that “spoiler warning” thing. It rarely works and I don’t want to tempt you.

Screenwriter/Director Julian Fellowes knows that the worst thing about decent people lying isn’t always the inevitability of being found out—it’s the soul-rot that comes with self-contempt. I can just see these people ten years from now. Ibsen could have seen them, too. And the sight wouldn’t be pretty.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13094&reviewer=405
originally posted: 11/09/05 16:03:30
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User Comments

8/26/10 the dork knight "Slow" is the word. Nothing you haven't seen before. 2 stars
5/26/06 helen bradley slow paced better editing needed 3 stars
3/10/06 Phil M. Aficionado Bentin has written a superb review here; completely agree. Fine first film for DIrector. 4 stars
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  16-Sep-2005 (R)
  DVD: 21-Feb-2006



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