Gosford Park writer Julian Fellowes slips behind the camera for the first time with Separate Lies. James (Tom Wilkinson) leads an idyllic life shuttling between work in London and his country weekend retreat while behind his back wife Anne (Emily Watson) falls for the charms of handsome local toff Bill (Rupert Everett). Cue one tragic accident and the trio are dragged into a conspiracy of silence to save their bacon in a solidly made but strangely lightweight drama.
Despite the modern day setting, there’s a distinctly old fashioned flavour that could even pass as film noir if the locations weren’t so sunny and the lighting so sleek. Rifts between the landed gentry and the villagers provide the skeleton for the plot but the real meat is the moral quagmire the three leads find themselves drowning in. A gripping (if predictable) first half trawls over the ramifications of their criminal actions but nosedives into more pedestrian ‘will James and Anne save their marriage?’ material. Interest levels dip accordingly and Fellowes doesn’t make the most of the soul searching as he could.
A sprinkling of choice comic moments buoys things up but some are arguably unintentional. The biggest culprit is James’ secretary Priscilla (Hermione Norris, sadly wasted), a stereotyped creature who harbours a crush on her boss. Still, both Wilkinson and Watson turn in cast-iron performances with only the occasional duff line to get through but Everett’s louche indifference raises suspicions that he wandered on set by mistake. It’s entertaining but there are too many missed opportunities to make it any more.