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USA: Fox Searchlight
UK: Twentieth Century Fox
Cast: Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Hermoine Norris, John Warnaby, Rupert Everett, Richenda Carey, Linda Bassett, Christine Lohr, Alice O'Connell, John Neville, Peregrine Kitchener-Fellowes, Henry Drake, David Harewood, Sabine Tourtellier, Philip Rham, Jeremy Child
Director: Julian Fellowes
USA & UK: 85 mins
USA Rated: R for language including some sexual references
UK Certificate: 15 contains strong language
USA Release Date: 30 September 2005 (Limited Release - wider)
USA Release Date: 16 September 2005 (Limited Release - New York)
UK Release Date: 18 November 2005
What does deception do to a marriage? To a soul? In SEPARATE LIES, this searing question rises to the fore in a story about a man and woman who seem idyllically happy until a deadly accident sets off a cascade of increasingly dangerous lies...which in turn reveal devastating truths about who they each are and what they want from one another. Academy Award nominees Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson star with Rupert Everett in this taut, suspenseful yet revealing human mystery that presents a modern-day love triangle bisected by a criminal act. The film marks the directorial debut of Oscar®-winning screenwriter (GOSFORD PARK), veteran actor and acclaimed novelist (Snobs) Julian Fellowes.
At first glance, the marriage of James Manning (Wilkinson) and his wife Anne (Watson) couldn't be more picture-perfect. James is a wealthy and respected international lawyer; Anne is a bright and charming homemaker. They reside in a gorgeous country home, have another in London, and enjoy a privileged, peaceful existence with few real worries. It would be absurd to think that such a partnership could be torn apart in just a few tragic seconds.
Yet that is precisely what happens. It all begins when the husband of the Mannings' cleaning lady is found near death just down the road, the victim of a hit-and-run. At first, it seems to be a random accident. But soon James begins to suspect that their neighbor, the handsome, upper-crust Bill Bule (Everett) just back from America, might be to blame for what becomes a vehicular homicide. As James and the police begin to probe what really happened, James is suddenly faced with the shocking reality that both Bill and his wife Anne might have been involved, not only in the unreported crime, but with each other in a passionate affair.
James' shattering discovery is only the beginning of a suspenseful journey that takes a twisting turn when James makes the difficult choice to lie in order to protect his wife, who has been lying to him all along about her relationship with Bill, who in turn has his own devastating secret he is hiding from everyone. With the police investigator on their heels, James, Anne and Bill weave their own individual webs of deceit - each with his or her own complex personal agenda - until the truths that lie beneath the surface begin to emerge.
I first came across Nigel Balchin's novel, A Way Through The Wood, when it was suggested to me by a friend, Jenni Hopkins, who had just read the novel and thought it might be what I was looking for in a film. What I had in mind was creating a "moral maze" -- one of those films in which you are never quite sure whose side you are on. Where good people do bad things; and where bad (or bad-ish) people do good things. I find in film that I am sometimes unconvinced by that polemic in which the heroes are invariably heroic and where one is told who the 'bad guys' are right from the start. Life, it seems to me anyway, is a little more complicated than this.
In SEPARATE LIES we have a couple, James and Anne Manning, who are apparently leading the dream life. Then an accident happens and everything is unravelled. On the face of it, the story may appear to concern itself with the events of one unfortunate crisis but, much more than this, it is a study of a relationship where everything looked perfect but where, in reality, almost nothing was. In a way, the film is a study of their journey towards that unacknowledged truth.
Despite the fact that the Mannings are clearly leading a luxurious upper middle-class life - one not often seen in contemporary films -- I would also like to hope that the film will resonate at a more universal level. Their problems are not after all unique to the privileged. Anyone who has ever lost themselves in a relationship because it seemed easier than fighting, anyone who has ever had to choose between their own misery and the unhappiness of those they love, will understand the quandary that Anne faces. And anyone who has discovered that the love they had based their entire lives on was a fiction of their own imagination will understand James.
As for the accident that does so much to de-stabilize their idyllic existence - who has not ever made a bad choice in a moment of panic and then lived to regret the corrosive, destructive force of that unwise decision?
If you have, then you will sympathize with the predicament all three main characters find themselves in. Lies are reproductive. One lie, told in a guilty hurry, will soon spawn others until a sticky, dishonest web engulfs the teller. On some level or other, most of us have done it and regretted it. Which of us is really entitled to condemn these characters for doing the same?
Each of the characters has a point of view which can more or less be justified. Each could be seen as very right or very wrong. I know whose side I am probably on, but ultimately I would much rather keep that to myself and allow others to make up their own minds.
Above all, my great hope is that SEPARATE LIES has turned out to be a film that will provoke argument and conversation.
- Julian Fellowes