“It’s always the ones in the corner you have too worry about”
This film version of Thérèse Raquin was originally entitled Thérèse Raquin as it is based on Neal Bell’s stage adaptation but between presumed focus groups and a less than stellar premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, it was renamed Thérèse and in advance of its muted recent wider release, it changed again to In Secret. It is hard to see the logic of divorcing the title entirely from any connection with Zola as the generic replacement is hardly a big pull but who knows how the minds of Hollywood executives work.
As it is, I don’t think it would have made too much difference to the success of the film, as stellar performance from Jessica Lange aside, it is a fairly hokey take on the story which somewhat misses the mark. A young Thérèse gets a potted backstory as she’s left in the care of her aunt (Lange) by kindly parents and quickly morphs into a gamine Elizabeth Olsen who must play nursemaid and companion, and eventually wife, to her sickly cousin Camille (a brilliantly washed out Tom Felton).
The only brightness in the nineteenth century poverty of the dull corner of Paris where they find themselves running a shop, comes with the arrival of Camille’s old friend, the brooding Laurent (Oscar Isaac) with whom a passionate affair strikes up and they soon make dastardly plans to ensure a future together, unaware of what they’re unleashing. But director Charlie Stratton never quite nails the tone of the film – glib humour gives way to schlocky sensationalism with no real emotion at all discernible.
Olsen is the biggest disappointment in this respect, a blank canvas suggesting little of the rich internal life of the original Thérèse and weighted down by Stratton’s too-overt symbolism of tight corsets and barred windows. And there’s a weird confluence of Britflick stalwarts as Madame Raquin’s circle of friends – Matt Lucas, Mackenzie Crook and Shirley Henderson always popping round for a gossip and a game of dominoes, Henderson standing out with some fierce characterisation.
The film is saved though by the intensity of Lange’s performance, particularly in her eyes, as in a grief-stricken state, a stroke robs her of the power of speech and towards the end of the film, it is her face and her face alone that is out-acting everyone else on the screen. She nails the right balance between hamminess and ’proper’ acting (much as in American Horror Story) and almost makes this worth watching. But otherwise, it is a rather insipid take on Thérèse Raquin, no matter what the title is.