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:: Separate Lies

James Manning (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife, Anne (Emily Watson), live a British upper-middle class existence of soft-boiled egg breakfasts, excessive wallpapering and weekend trips to their house in the country. Life for James is by no means a walk in the countryside; unlike some of his more aristocratic acquaintances, he is compelled to work long hours “in the city” as a solicitor to maintain his enviable lifestyle. Yet he prides himself on his “high-powered lawyer” image, and believes his life to be every bit as idyllic as it appears from the outside.

The cracks begin to appear when an old man is killed in a hit-and-run accident near the Mannings’ country home, a tragic event whose significance James does not initially understand. His well-intentioned sleuthing soon reveals the culprit to be one of those aristocratic acquaintances, William ‘Bill’ Bule (Rupert Everett), an insufferable toff who could beat Hugh Grant hands down in the smirking stakes any day. As Bill drawls an insincere apology for the old man’s death, James’ choice could not be clearer: he must turn Bill in. But of course there is a twist, and James does not yet have the full picture. When the proverbial penny drops, our protagonist’s banal existence admittedly becomes “a bit too Jerry Springer” for his liking. Suddenly he is keener to cover up the crime than to turn Bill in.

Part unsolved mystery, part solved mystery, and wholly moral dilemma, Separate Lies looks at just how far we are prepared to go – and indeed how much we are prepared to suffer – to protect what we hold dear. The question is universal, but the setting is not; depicting England’s well to do class has evidently become something of a passion for writer/director Julian Fellowes, who won an Academy Award in 2002 for his screenplay of Gosford Park. In Separate Lies, Fellowes portrays a modern (albeit less aristocratic) version of the Gosford Park crowd and their opulent bucolic lifestyle. They may have dumped the fox hunting for less elite pastimes, treat the hired help as human beings, and – God forbid – be gainfully employed, but the modern crowd is every bit as self-serving as their predecessors.

Much to his credit, Fellowes manages to avoid the exaggeration and judgment that too many of his contemporaries feel compelled to lay on thick when portraying Britain’s cushy classes on the big or small screen. The film is not so much a social commentary as it is an exploration of those things that maintain the delicate fibres of our relationships: honesty and trust, sacrifice and appreciation, and of course, mutual love. The Mannings’ life may appear rosier than most, but they are certainly not the only ones to live in glass houses.