Separate Lies Movie Review
James and Anne's wealth affords them life's finest luxury accoutrements (residences in both London and the country, fancy cars, servants), but restlessness simmers underneath this apparently cheery, perfect veneer, with Anne soon catapulting their domestic bliss into chaos when she begins a torrid affair with William. When a mysterious Range Rover runs down Maggie's husband, Anne and William come under suspicion for the murder from both the police and James, the latter of whom endeavors to protect his wife (and, equally as important, his own reputation as a big-time barrister) by helping to cover up her possible role in the crime. Fellowes wastes little time on mystery, however, as his prime preoccupation is the method by which relationships crumble due to tragedies both big (the hit-and-run death) and, just as vitally, small (James and Anne's lack of warmth, inability to communicate, and joint desire to sweep unhappiness under the Persian rug lest it disrupt their comfortable existence). And with Anne unwilling to cast aside her youngish paramour to return to her husband, the film quickly becomes a case study in people's inability to fully suppress their most urgent desires and discontent.
The ensuing amorous treachery and devotion plays out like a romance novel as conceived by Masterpiece Theatre, with Fellowes' plain-Jane visual schema incapable of enlivening his story's stultifying ordinariness in the way that Robert Altman's fluid, roaming direction gave Gosford Park's upstairs-downstairs shenanigans both wit and grace. Separate Lies sits up on the screen inertly, failing to convey the pulse-pounding desperation and misery that's trying to break through the surface of James and Anne's pleasant facades. Yet even if the action frequently progresses with lethargic limpness, Wilkinson and Watson color the film with a full-bodied hue that Fellowes, for all of his dignified establishing shots and predictably edited arguments, is unable to muster. And though Wilkinson sporadically succumbs to the affected rigidity that sometimes mars his work, Watson uses quiet restraint to beautifully convey Anne's pent-up melancholy, whether in a quarrel during which her destruction of a carefully arranged vegetable plate speaks to the disruption of her life's order and stability, or in a later shot in which she mechanically applies make-up at her dressing room mirror, a vain attempt to put a happy face on a hopeless, lost marriage.
Don't forget to wear sunscreen.