The British are different than you and me.
That might be the moral, such as it is, of "Separate Lies," a psycho-emotional thriller in which three members of the English upper class behave terribly well when they find themselves in a spot of trouble involving adultery, manslaughter and obstruction of justice. In Hollywood's hands, this would also feature steamy sex scenes, Oscar-worthy histrionics and at least one instance of someone avenging his honor with a gun.
But "Separate Lies" is very British indeed, meaning it's all about restraint, good taste, discretion and tact. Julian Fellowes, best known as the man who wrote the marvelous "Gosford Park," makes his directorial debut in a production that fairly bursts with all of the above. Mendacity and avarice may form the toxic heart of the story, but they've been nearly obscured by a hard, civilized polish.
"No life is perfect," says James Manning (Tom Wilkinson) by way of introduction in "Separate Lies," and as James, a high-powered London lawyer, kisses his pretty wife, Anne (Emily Watson), goodbye on their posh doorstep, it's clear that only carnage can ensue. And ensue it does, in the person of one William Bule (Rupert Everett), whom James and Anne meet that weekend at their country house.
Some very bad things happen, which in terms of movie logic are entirely predictable, but in terms of moral logic are quite surprising. "Separate Lies" will remind Wilkinson's fans of the 2001 drama "In the Bedroom," but admirers of Graham Greene's "The End of the Affair" will also recognize a similarly solemn, if less philosophically rigorous, examination of whether the right thing is always the good thing.
-- Ann Hornaday