Director: Charlie Stratton
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Osar Isaac, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange, Shirley Henderson, Matt Lucas, Mackenzie Crook, John Kavanagh
With the feel of a Shakespearean style tragedy, the film In Secret brings to life a gray gloomy storyline about the lengths its main characters will take to make their dreams come true. Adultery, murder, guilt, resentment, and control makeup the formula for this sordid tale of love gone wrong.
Therese (Elizabeth Olsen), an illegitimate child, is abandoned by her father when he leaves her with her aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange). The Madame, who spends her time doting on her sickly son Camille (Tom Felton), is charged with raising the girl but uses her as nothing more than a servant to help take care of her cousin. The overbearing mother tells Therese that she is Camille’s guardian angel and tries to raise the young girl believing that she should be grateful for the opportunity.
Therese grows into a young woman and is forced into marriage with Camille by his mother just before he heads out to Paris to enter into the exciting world of clerkship for a French establishment. Camille believes that Paris will be his ticket to finally becoming an independent young man and getting out from under the control of his mother. Madame Raquin believes that going back to being a respected shopkeeper and selling the finest fabrics to the Parisian women will bring her the satisfaction in life she seeks. Therese has no hope of anything as she is bound into a life she never wanted. It is in Paris that the threesome set up camp in Madame Raquin’s shop, with Therese at her beck and call while Camille is away at work.
Life turns into a dull routine for this little family that lives above a store in a dark dingy alley. The mother and niece duo spend time selling fabric, Camille goes to his job which turns out not to be as exciting as he hoped, and they have a small group of misfit friends join them for a game of dominoes once a week, while Therese sits silently in a corner waiting to be told what to do. Then one fine day, Camille comes home with Laurent (Oscar Isaac), a long lost childhood friend that just happens to work at the same firm. At first Therese makes it known that she can’t stand Laurent, but she is actually masking her fascination with the handsome family friend. Sensing her attraction to him, it is not long before Laurent acts on Therese’s passions and desires and the two begin an obsessive and passionate affair.
The two lovers, desperate to be free of the shackles of life’s circumstances that bind them from being and doing what they want, see Camille as the obstacle that must be removed in order for them to get everything they desire. Camille meets his demise at the hands of Laurent who sets up his friend’s death as a drowning accident. But, little do they know that murdering Camille will not set them free but bind them into a nightmare of guilt, anger, and growing resentment to one another while being observed under the suspicious watchful eye of Madame Raquin, who is wondering what really happened to her beloved perfect son.
There is some comic relief in this rather depressing film from the colorful characters that make up the domino players. The dialogue among the group of oddball friends is witty and charming and will pull out a smile or two from the audience. One scene (which probably was not meant to be funny) that gives a good laugh is when Madam Raquin is paralyzed in one of the silliest looking stroke victim sequences ever shot on film. The love affair between Therese and Laurent is very believable due to the chemistry steaming off the screen between Olsen and Issac. Felton plays a sweaty annoying husband to the point you almost wanting to slap him. Lange, true to form, is great as the controlling needy matriarch. But, despite the strong cast this film never really takes off. It grinds its way through its cheerless tale and never really makes you feel any sympathy for the victims of circumstance. The film just feels like a heavy weight, and by the time it ends you might find yourself thinking “They went through all that trouble just for that?!”
If love stories with melodramatic tragic endings are your cup of tea, then In Secret may be a good for an evening at the theater. Or perhaps a better choice would be allotting time on a romantic film with a happy ending that leaves you feeling satisfied with movie dollars well spent.