tue 23/07/2024

In Secret | reviews, news & interviews

In Secret

In Secret

Thérèse Raquin as farcical potboiler in entertainingly misjudged, far-from-erotic effort

Elizabeth Olsen is "straight out of a Pears soap commercial" in the wonderfully daft 'In Secret'

As Literary Review's "Bad Sex in Fiction Award" recognises, there's not a lot that's funnier and more damaging to a story's credibility than an attempt to be sexy that falls flat or, even better, that misfires spectacularly.

Some of the most famous movie duds - Showgirls, Body of Evidence, Boxing Helena, Colour of Night - which are beloved of course by a certain type of film enthusiast, this reviewer included, strive for smouldering and deliver mainly laughs. Which brings us to the latest example of inept eroticism: In Secret, debut writer-director Charlie Stratton's adaptation of Zola's 19th-century novel Thérèse Raquin.

In Secret tells of Thérèse (played by Lily Laight as a girl and Elizabeth Olsen as an adult) who, following her mother's death, is offloaded by her father onto her pinch-faced, puritanical aunt Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange). Her aunt's shadowy, unwelcoming manner is mirrored in her home and she coddles her sickly son Camille (who grows into Harry Potter's Tom Felton, pictured below right with Lange) to a deranged degree. The first sign that this adaptation will provide laughs of the unintentional variety comes early on when it's revealed that Madam Raquin is embroidering a weird wall-hanging that reads, "Don't make a sound. Keep quiet." In other depressing news Thérèse is required to bunk up with her feeble, noisily unwell cousin - an arrangement which is horrifyingly transformed into her largely sexless marital bed when she comes of age and is forced to marry him.

A move to Paris soon after marks Thérèse's introduction to the world, even as her marriage pins her closer to her unpleasant family's bosom. For there she's introduced to the Raquin's family friend, the artistic Laurent (Oscar Isaac), a man whom she finds smotheringly sexy. Indeed his presence in a room gets her so flustered that she's seen desperately battling with a window in the forlorn hope of breathing in some air. "Why are his hands so large?" she asks panic-stricken. "He smells like an animal, I can smell him from here." Her rude sexual awakening is accompanied by frantic fiddling on the score and the pair pout and flutter at each other like two madly amorous butterflies, leading first to the bedroom and later to a dastardly plot.

Stratton's first film is enjoyably bonkers - but it's all a bit much, largely because his execution of material that might have worked on the page is utterly ham-fisted and it lurches from one absurdity to the next, all rendered in a dreamy haze which suggests you might well be imagining the whole debacle. When someone compliments Thérèse's skill at dominoes along the lines of "It's always the quiet ones you have to watch" the film cuts straight to her and Laurent doing the wild thing. Thérèse growls like a bear in a misguided attempt to entice Camille sexually and Laurent hides under her enormous skirts after an unexpected entrance by her mother-in-law, leading to more memorable awkwardness. Matters are further confused by the broad character-comedy of the family's Thursday evening gatherings (which feature Shirley Henderson, Mackenzie Crook and Matt Lucas), which almost suggests comedic intention elsewhere.

The mighty Lange does what she can and, although the similarly talented Olsen puts in an earnest performance, unfortunately when all about them is daft and they're taking things terribly seriously that can't help but compound the comedy. It's Felton who draws the shortest straw, however, as he's rendered preposterously unattractive. He appears inexplicably unwashed - his paper-white pallor framed by greasy, scraped-down hair. By contrast Olsen is straight out of a Pears soap commercial, yet they presumably have access to the same bathroom facilities. Camille is the sort of man who thrusts a bunch of daisies at his wife accompanied by the comment, "Don't tell mother, she'll be jealous", makes Thérèse sit down on a walk so he can take a nap on her and whose idea of sex is a few wheezy thrusts before he collapses into a dank, coughing mess. In short he's quite the catch and absolutely definitely not someone you'd find yourself plotting to murder.

In Secret stops just short of the cast adopting 'Allo 'Allo-style French accents (although hands up if you would have liked to have seen that). Devotees of the book will likely be appalled but it's undeniably entertaining and for bad sex, and bad film connoisseurs, at least this one's a winner.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for In Secret

Follow @EmmaSimmonds on Twitter

Devotees of the book will likely be appalled but for bad sex, and bad film connoisseurs at least this one's a winner


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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