Separate Lies

Separate Lies/Secrets and Lies

"Secrets and lies...We're all in pain! Why can't we share our pain?" Secrets and Lies (Mike Leigh, director)

Anyone who has attended a family Thanksgiving dinner knows under all the patter and bonhomie is a time bomb of regrets and recriminations waiting to surface at the moment someone reveals a family secret or lie. As if he were taking that conceit to the next level, writer/director Julian Fellowes has everyone in the James Manning household, including maid and friend or two, know a dark lie in the first half hour. Sharing it however creates complications not even Mike Leigh's Purley family could have endured.

The maid's husband has died from a hit and run accident, and the offending car may have been driven by Anne Manning (Emily Watson), wife of London barrister Manning (Tom Wilkinson) while with her lover, Bill Bule (Rupert Everett). Finding out this secret/lie puts the righteous Manning in a serious bind because of his affection for his wife.
The story cascades through the separate lies to a point where everyone must decide the right course of action. During the time they agree to hide the crime, the old worm, conscience, works on them all in different ways. How they are each affected is part of this intriguing film's wit and charm, though not as happy as those nouns would seem.

In the opening, Manning's voiceover tells us not to be deceived by the seemingly happy lives. He goes on to show the "separate lies" hidden and eventually intermingled in a family of deceit. His exclamation at one point reduces all the intrigue to its common denominator, placing our wealthy players in their place with the rest of us: "I'm afraid that's a little too Jerry Springer for me."

No one could beat Joseph Conrad's characterization of lies in "Heart of Darkness": "There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies."