“Excuse my wife: she’s never seen a man before”. Having been unwillingly married off to sickly cousin Camille (Tom Felton) by her overbearing aunt (Jessica Lange), it is with such introduction that the eponymous character of Emile Zola’s 1867 source novel Thérèse Raquin (Elizabeth Olsen) meets dashing artist Laurent (Oscar Isaac) and the die is cast for our tragic players.
Camille isn’t mistaken either: pallid and forever painted with sweat, having grown up sheltered and coddled by his mother and nursed by Thérèse, it is with a childlike zeal that he decides to move with his new bride and Madame Raquin to Paris. Here, in his new job, he meets childhood friend Laurent who takes an instant shine to Thérèse when invited to the Raquin’s home. With barely time for a coquettish glance or lusty sigh, an intense affair ignites between the two, with only Camille an obstacle.
Where In Secret surprises, often pleasantly, in its first half is with a black and occasionally farcical comedy aided by turns from British small screen stars Matt Lucas and Mackenzie Crook, although Zola purists may feel slightly alienated. Director Charlie Stratton’s film takes a dark turn midway through once the illicit lovers plot to free themselves from Camille’s burden, taking a gothic tone that recalls Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.
Stratton’s cast do an admirable job – Felton in particular is clearly having fun, while Olsen is engaging as both an imprisoned and then liberated soul, struggling with each. In Secret is a highly stylised period drama that veers close to soap opera on occasion and moves at a breakneck pace at times when giving the characters time to unfold more naturally may have proved beneficial – Therese’s seduction could pass by slow-blinking filmgoers.
However this doesn’t prevent In Secret from proving to be an enjoyable experience. Zola claimed his novel to be an examination of temperaments rather than characters, and Stratton makes this evident. An avoidance of the typical polarising caricatures that often litter period dramas in favour of conflicted and nuanced roles keep your allegiances switching throughout and, despite a schizophrenic mood, make In Secret a refreshing addition to the genre.
In Secret is released nationwide on 16th May 2014.
Watch the trailer for In Secret here: