A review of “Separate Lies” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: R for language and sexual references

Run Time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

 

 

Crack scribe Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”) takes a turn behind the camera with a stiff-upper-lip melodrama that’s semi-spoiled by a disappointing bit of miscasting.

High-powered London solicitor James Manning (Tom Wilkinson) has it all; the smart country hideaway, the gorgeous wife (Emily Watson as Anne) and a satisfying and successful career. 

A tragic hit-and-run accident shatters the calm of the Mannings’ peaceful village existence. That coupled with the arrival of playboy cum cricketer Bill Bule (Rupert Everett) blows fissures in their elegant but fragile union. Fingers are pointed and pasts are concealed in an effort to maintain the glossy sheen of a picturesque deceit.

With scriptural finesse Fellowes illustrates the passionate duplicity of a scandalous extramarital affair and the slow disintegration of an ostensibly happy marriage, set to a chronologically jumpy beat.

But what was cunning and sexy in this year’s underrated “Asylum” doesn’t cut it here.  Everett is sorely miscast as the quintessential third man; the “irresistible” lover in a sordid little triangle.  His foppish interloper is selfish, spoiled and disdainful of everyone and everything including his melancholic mistress.  I’m hard pressed to feel the appeal.

Both Watson and Wilkinson work wonders with Fellowes’ clever words and fluent mannerisms.  Watson’s addled Anne falls into her dirty affair for genuinely observed reasons: she can’t live up to James’ impossibly high standards.  Wilkinson is consistently marvelous as a proud cuckold who helplessly watches his world crumble around him.

Fellowes gets an A for effort and marvelous scripting but his directorial debut is ultimately an ample exercise in frustration.