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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005, 12:46 GMT
The moral maze of Julian Fellowes
By Caroline Briggs
BBC News entertainment reporter

Julian Fellowes on the set of Separate Lies
Separate Lies is Julian Fellowes' first feature film as director
Julian Fellowes is right to feel like a lucky man.

The actor and screenwriter has just directed his first feature-length film, Separate Lies.

And while many would argue his directorial debut was an inevitable step in his career, Fellowes himself is decidedly modest about his achievement.

"Everyone needs luck. Some people say you make your own luck, but you don't entirely," he says.

"However I do think you have got to spot your lucky break, which can sometimes come in disguise."

Fellowes' lucky break did not come in disguise.

It arrived with great ceremony in the shape of a gold statuette when he won the best screenplay Oscar for Gosford Park in 2002.

And it was this, he explains, that finally opened the door to directing after eight years.

I want people to leave the cinema, go to their dinner and argue about it
Julian Fellowes

"It's curiously illogical in a way. You win for a script and you'd think you'd be offered other scripts, but it isn't that, you are offered all sorts of things because you have become one of these kind of lucky people.

"I always wanted to direct. I think it's not possible to be interested in film and not at least be curious about directing.

"But I had gone up a different tree and it is always difficult to go from tree to tree the higher up the branches you get.

"You need a bigger rope to swing on and of course the Oscar provided me with that, so it give me the chance to do a lot of things, like direct a picture."


Separate Lies - based on Nigel Balchin's 1950 novel A Way Through the Wood - stars Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson and Rupert Everett.

It centres on the lives of James (Wilkinson) and Anne (Watson) Manning who seem on the surface to be content in their comfortable middle class world.

But when Anne starts up an affair with the aristocratic Bill Bule (Everett), their union leads to tragic consequences.

Before long all three are all drawn into a cobweb of lies.

Emily Watson and Tom Wilkinson in Separate Lies
Fellowes described Tom Wilkinson as "fantastic"

Fellowes describes the film as a "moral maze" and one he guides the audience expertly through leaving the final judgement in their hands.

"I really like subjects where you don't know which side you are on and where you keep changing your mind.

"James is completely unsympathetic at the beginning and as his life falls apart, as he starts to tell lies, and as he starts to get dragged into the whole thing, you like him more.

"Even with Anna, who is in a way is much less sympathetic, you gradually begin to realise what she has had to put up with and while you never endorse her decision, you can't go on hating her for it because she feels as badly as everyone else.

"In the end I don't think she is an unsympathetic character. I think by the end you quite like both of them. She is finally being true to herself and he is finally letting her go."

Fellowes, who is best known to TV viewers as Lord Kilwillie in the BBC's Monarch of the Glen, says his intention was to leave the audience to act as judge and jury.

Rupert Everett in Separate Lies
Rupert Everett plays bored aristocrat Bill Bule

"All I ever want to get across from everything I write is that life is very complicated and you should be careful before you start judging groups or types or even individuals," he explains.

"I'd like the film to haunt [the audience], to find themselves re-running a scene in their head.

"I want people to leave the cinema, go to their dinner and argue about it. I like the idea of that."

Fellowes' next project is writing a script for Hollywood director Martin Scorsese - the details of which are kept firmly under his hat - and was looking at other "interesting offers".

But while he says his career is far from being mapped out it was likely more acting and directing would feature.

"Acting is the most fun, because you just kind of lark about, but the truth is you don't have the responsibility and there is a lot of pressure.

"On the other hand, if you direct a film and people like it you have a much fuller sense of joy than if you were just quite good in a movie.

"Mind you, if I was Judi Dench I'm absolutely sure that that would be more than fulfilling, but I wasn't anywhere near that level. It's not a fair comparison really."

Separate Lies opens in the UK on 18 November.

In with the right Fellowes
25 Mar 02 |  Oscars 2002


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