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Separate Lies

We're All Wreckers

Frequently in life things are not what they appear to be. Behind cheery expressions lie barely submerged anxieties and fears. Behind locked doors lie secrets undiscovered. Julian Fellowes' directorial debut deftly explores these areas of our lives in the moral maze that is Separate Lies.

James Manning (Tom Wilkinson) lives in seeming matrimonial bliss with his wife, Anne (Emily Watson). Surrounded by all the trappings of the upper class, James and Anne's life seems idyllic. Their privileged and peaceful existence is torn asunder when a suave, boorish neighbor, Bill Bule (Rupert Everett) comes to town and a terrible accident occurs that not only threatens James and Anne's livelihood but also opens the door to dark secrets kept under wraps.

Despite the relatively brief running time (87 min.) of Separate Lies, Julian Fellowes manages to cram his debut full of intrigue, deception, and some hilariously dark dialogue. One classic exchange occurs when James begins to suspect Bill was responsible for the aforementioned accident. "Fuck Bill!" exclaims James to which Ann replies, "That's the thing…I do fuck Bill."

As the web of deceit begins to unravel, Fellowes does a wonderful job of not passing judgment on any of the parties involved. Sure, Bill is unquestionably a self-consumed cad, but he's not completely reprehensible. Likewise, Anne's infidelities do not take away from the fact that she's tirelessly stood by her controlling husband's (James) side for years. The story becomes less about the accident itself and more about the lies all involved parties tell themselves and those around them.

Accordingly, the performances of all of the main characters are complex, subtle, and nuanced. Of particular note is the performance of Tom Wilkinson who manages to skillfully convey just about every conceivable emotion for a man in his position. Wilkinson broods quietly with a fiery glimmer in his eye. He rages in anger at Anne for her betrayal and weeps mournfully at the loss of a relationship that perhaps he never really had. Wilkinson's performance is one of the best this year.

Separate Lies is the kind of film that leaves one scratching their head wondering who to side with. Fellowes succeeds in crafting a taut film that is equal parts thriller and character study. Rather than simply polarizing his characters with the labels "good" and "bad", Fellowes populates Separate Lies with varying shades of gray and in the process creates one of the most engaging and thought provoking films of the year.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars