Film review: In secret (15, 107 min)

In Secret: Elizabeth Olsen as Therese Raquin and Tom Felton as Camille
In Secret: Elizabeth Olsen as Therese Raquin and Tom Felton as Camille
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Sexual repression and murderous intent

Bosoms heave, hoop skirts flutter and britches swell in Charlie Stratton’s torrid tale of forbidden passion, based on Emile Zola’s scandalous 1867 novel, Therese Raquin.

For all the lustful glances and whimpering surrenders to carnal desire on-screen, audiences should remain unflustered.

The only thing In Secret is likely to arouse is an occasional snort of derision.

This is an artfully composed tableaux of sexual repression and murderous intent in which lovers conduct dangerous liaisons within ear-shot of relatives but are never overheard, and one woman condemns her entire gender to servitude by toiling over an embroidery bearing the motto, “Don’t make a sound. Keep quiet.”

When the film’s heroine dares to disobey this stitched directive and openly questions her spouse, he snaps petulantly, “I am the husband.

“I make the decisions. I am not asking you, I’m telling you.”

The film follows his lead and signposts every twist.

Nothing is left to nuance in Stratton’s overwrought screenplay and composer Gabriel Yared adopts a similarly heavy-handed approach with his score.

As a child, Therese (Lily Laight) is abandoned by her father (Matt Devere) in the care of a domineering aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange), and sickly cousin, Camille (Dimitrije Bogdanov).

The boy’s persistent coughing keeps Therese awake at night so, by the time she turns 21, Therese (now played by Elizabeth Olsen) is wearily devoted to Camille (Tom Felton) as a nursemaid.

Madame Raquin orchestrates a marriage between the cousins and the dysfunctional family transplants to Paris where Camille secures employment as a clerk and Therese serves behind the counter of Madame’s shop.

By night, Therese sits primly by the window as Madame plays dominoes with her coterie, including police inspector Michaud (John Kavanagh), his son Olivier (Matt Lucas) and twittering daughter-in-law Suzanne (Shirley Henderson).

Out of the blue, Camille’s old friend Laurent (Oscar Isaac) visits the Raquins and ignites Therese’s dormant desires.

Sexual tension sparks an affair and Therese succumbs to her primal longings in a room above the shop.

As feelings intensify, Laurent suggests an afternoon boating expedition with Camille.

“People have accidents every day and sometimes they don’t come back,” he whispers conspiratorially.

In Secret piles a powder keg of destructive emotion beneath the lead characters, but when the time comes to light the fuse, we haven’t forged a strong connection to any of the morose protagonists.

Sexual chemistry between Olsen and Isaac barely simmers and Felton’s much abused husband is an insipid wimp.

Only Lange fully enters into the spirit of Zola’s source text, delivering a commanding performance that holds our attention, even when her grief-stricken harridan is recovering from a medical emergency that renders her mute. Lucas and Henderson provide fleeting comic relief to ensure some of our sniggers are intentional.

Romance/Thriller. Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange, Shirley Henderson, Matt Lucas, Mackenzie Crook, John Kavanagh, Lily Laight, Matt Devere, Dimitrije Bogdanov. Director: Charlie Stratton.