There’s a lot of stiff upper lipism in the British morality play/crime drama Separate Lies.
I wouldn’t say it’s uneventful—in fact, quite a lot happens, including a Great Gatsby-ish hit and run manslaughter—but the bulk of the action is verbal and psychological. It is a movie of confessions, meaningful stares, moral dilemmas, and the like.
I don’t know that it’s quite accurate to say it’s slow, and I was never significantly bored, but it does have kind of a deliberate pace, where the major or surprising developments are impactful but not really exciting or titillating. It’s a thoughtful, intelligent film, but certainly would not be everyone’s cup of tea.
The characters stick to an upper class propriety as best they can, even within a marriage or other close relationship. So the times they break free of that are especially revealing. Their reserved nature makes it a bit of a challenge to get inside them, but all the more satisfying when you do.
That’s really what held my interest about the film. Each person’s character is gradually revealed as they admit more about what they feel, and as they respond to new and morally complex situations. The psychology of it is quite well done.
Of the three main characters, I was best able to identify with the husband. The wife a little less, but she was still a mostly sympathetic character as she revealed more and more of herself. At the very least I was convinced that each was making a genuine effort to do the right thing, and to not be gratuitously hurtful toward the other.
The other male was harder for me to feel sympathy for. Not that he was the clear villain, but I connected least with him.
Upon reflection though—and the movie inspires reflection, which is always a good sign—really I don’t know that he does merit less sympathy than the others. He gets the least camera time, he has more of an arrogant surface style to him, and of the three he most maintains that upper class reserve, but if you really think about all he says and does in the movie, it’s very possible he’s got at least as much going on inside him as the other two. And I suspect that if he had revealed as much of that inside stuff as the other two, he would be a comparably sympathetic character. Perhaps he shouldn’t be punished just for being better at the stiff upper lip thing than the others.
So I mostly liked getting to know these people, at least as far as we are allowed to. And actually the movie does a good job with lesser characters as well. Even though you may not spend a lot of time with them, they feel like real, three-dimensional people.
As I say, it’s an intelligent movie. Not in the sense of being really complicated and obscure and requiring a great mind to figure out what the heck’s going on. It’s pretty straightforward and easy to follow as far as that goes. But more in the sense of presenting some really interesting things to ponder, such as conflicts between abstract right and wrong versus self-interest and personal feelings, or how to juggle caring enough about a person to hold them up to high standards and want them to be the best they can be versus being accepting and non-judgmental toward them, or when loving someone is compatible with leaving or letting them leave and how to communicate about that, and so on.
Good solid movie. I don’t know that I’d rank Separate Lies real close to the top of the movies I’ve written about so far, but it would certainly be in the top half.