Separate Lies (2005)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Marriage Drama, Psychological Drama, Romantic Mystery  |   Release Date - Sep 16, 2005 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 85 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Derek Armstrong

Julian Fellowes' Separate Lies dwells in the same adulterous British parlors as Woody Allen's Match Point, also released in late 2005. But it has something altogether different to say about how people behave when confronted with infidelity. Instead of focusing on the panicked maneuvering of the cheating spouse, as Allen does, Fellowes views events from the perspective of the cuckold (Tom Wilkinson), whose reactions are anything but typical. Sure, James Manning indulges in some wallowing, but far more characteristic is his dispassionate pragmatism and his sad attempts to compromise -- which remind the viewer that this pain manifests itself in many ways, not all of them noble or even righteously ignoble. Manning's stiff-lipped, buttoned-up ways are so ingrained, he cedes all power to his cavalierly cheating wife (Emily Watson), not only resisting opportunities to hang her out to dry, but even risking his own safety and absolving her of guilt. The fact that this is not the way most people would react makes Fellowes' script occasionally maddening, but more often fascinating, as it resists the easy answers and well-worn paths of other similar films. Wilkinson's performance makes possible the fine line between sympathizing with Manning and despising him. Fellowes' directorial debut is a bit of a structural oddity -- it reaches an early climax, after little more than an hour, and the epilogue that fills out the scant 87 minutes may frustrate even those ardently on board with his agenda. But the acclaimed screenwriter and former actor is clearly comfortable with actors, drawing out good work from Watson and a gaunt Rupert Everett, in perhaps his most humorless role yet. Watching the film, one wonders whether the sickly looking Everett is transforming his body for the needs of the role, or actually sick himself.