Written for the screen and directed by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), Separate Lies tells the story of James (Tom Wilkinson, Batman Begins), a high powered lawyer in London who lives in the countryside with his wife Anne (Emily Watson, Breaking the Waves). They have the perfect English house and a dog to match. One day, Anne meets William (Rupert Everett, Shrek 2) and has an affair with him, which turns the trio’s lives around in a way that they’d never expect.>
Treading into mild spoiler territory here, so scroll down!
One day, Anne and William are in William’s car and the car accidentally hits and kills the husband of her housekeeper. James finds out about the accident and initially confronts William about it (without knowing about Anne’s affair), and William agrees to turn himself in, as he was driving. When James returns home, he finds out that not only was Anne driving, but the affair is also made public. So he decides whether or not to live with this guilt of knowing the murder occurred.
OK, things are safe now, back into the pool.
Now, starting from those points, it becomes an excellent look into the married couple’s life together. James is a bit of a subtle taskmaster when it comes to Anne and some of the things around the house, and to see him live with the guilt from Anne’s actions (and to see Wilkinson live with it as the character) is quite fascinating to watch. Clearly, William is a bit of a richboy and Everett plays the part right, but the lure is to watch the disintegration of James and Anne’s marriage, not that there was much emotion there to begin with.
The thing that holds me back from recommending it fully is the third act. Slowly but surely, more people seem to get involved in the lie (or the cover-up), and in a scene of Melrose Place type proportions, James, Anne and William dodge a huge bullet when it comes to the housekeeper. From there, the movie just seems to drift and fade away, and with an 85 minute runtime, that’s not a far trip.
This comes with a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack that comes off as being rather unnecessary. By and large, Separate Lies is a quiet film, Saving Private Ryan it ain’t, and dialogue driven movies that have 6 channel soundtracks are nice, but not needed.
Fox gives Separate Lies the flipper treatment, with a fullscreen version on one side and a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen version on the other. Care to guess which one I watched? The film looks pretty good, though it’s not a chance to show off a lot of color (we are talking about England after all), and some of the exteriors shot in Wales (on James and Anne’s vacation) seem to suffer from a bit of edge enhancement. Otherwise, ’tis all good.
Aside from a couple of trailers, the only extra is a commentary with Fellowes. It’s clear that he has a passion for the material and for the production, and that is no fault of his own, but he is so enthusiastic about it, that he derails his train of thought from time to time and takes awhile to get back to his previous topic. He enjoys recalling some of the shots and working with the actors, but perhaps he could have used a little bit of structure.
Separate Lies is a case of a movie starting out strong and becoming very entrancing, but its third act is rather unbelievable. So the film that still reigns supreme as an effecting picture of a failing relationship is Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage. Go rent that, it’s a much better experience than this.