Separate Lies

If there's pleasure to be derived from the misfortunes of others, then Julian Fellowes' wickedly entertaining adaptation of Nigel Balchin's nearly forgotten 1951 novel is a barrel of fun. Smart, well-dressed and faultlessly respectable, James Manning (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife, Maggie (Emily Watson), live a well-heeled life that could have sprung full-blown...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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If there's pleasure to be derived from the misfortunes of others, then Julian Fellowes' wickedly entertaining adaptation of Nigel Balchin's nearly forgotten 1951 novel is a barrel of fun. Smart, well-dressed and faultlessly respectable, James Manning (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife, Maggie (Emily Watson), live a well-heeled life that could have sprung full-blown from the pages of British House & Garden. James and Maggie split their time between a smart house in London, where James works as a high-powered solicitor, and a handsomely appointed country manse in Buckinghamshire. The pretty picture starts to unravel the night James misses Maggie's cocktail party for their country friends and neighbors and arrives at the train station to find an uncharacteristically discomposed Maggie in the company of William Bule (a glowering Rupert Everett), the arrogant, divorced scion of the local "m'lords" who's just returned from a few elegantly dissipated years in New York. The following morning, the Mannings' faithful cleaning woman, Maggie (Linda Bassett), who used to work for the Bules, phones with terrible news. Late the previous afternoon, her husband, Joe, was struck down by a passing car and now lies dying in the hospital. Recalling the telltale scratch he noticed on William's Range Rover the night of Maggie's party — a scratch that's been painted over by the time of Joe's funeral — James becomes convinced that William had something to do with the accident and point-blank accuses him over lunch. After an unconvincing denial, William blithely admits to knocking the man down on the way to Maggie's party, and promises to turn himself in to the police the following morning. James' smug self-satisfaction over having done the right thing, however, is dashed when Maggie drops her own bombshell: She was not only in the car with William at the time of the accident, but she was behind the wheel. Oh, and she and William are lovers. Consumed with guilt and self-loathing, Maggie insists on going to the police, but James won't hear of it; after all, why should his wife's reckless infidelities be allowed to damage his career? When Chief Inspector Marshall (David Harewood) comes sniffing around, the cuckolded James overcomes his wounded pride just long enough to help cover up the crime, but lies, recriminations, fisticuffs and drinkies ensue. It seems the most genteel people are capable of the most awful things, or, as Tom tells Maggie, "We're all wreckers. We make decisions for all the best reasons and don't see the damage we cause." Next to manslaughter, that largely class-based disregard is perhaps the Mannings' most serious crime, but as the film shifts to follow the Mannings' crumbling marriage, this incisive point is nearly lost under Fellowes' too-subtle thumb, despite his sharp writing and a wonderful ensemble cast.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: R
  • Review: If there's pleasure to be derived from the misfortunes of others, then Julian Fellowes' wickedly entertaining adaptation of Nigel Balchin's nearly forgotten 1951 novel is a barrel of fun. Smart, well-dressed and faultlessly respectable, James Manning (Tom… (more)

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