This faithful and well acted adaptation of Emile Zola's 1867 novel Therese Raquin, has been retitled since its showing at Toronto in Sept 2013. Whether this will help its commercial chances is unclear. It's still going to be a hard sell.
The best thing it has going for it is the cast. Elizabeth Olsen plays Therese, the young woman forced into marrying her cousin (Tom Felton from Harry Potter) by her controlling aunt (Jessica Lange).When the three of them move to Paris to open a small (unsuccessful) shop, Therese's unhappiness is ameliorated by an affair with Laurent (Oscar Isaac) a young artist whose passion and flair contrast starkly with her husband's dullness and indifference.
This is one of those films where you can't fail to be aware of what a difference 150 years makes. Just as in some films, you realise that a mobile phone would have saved a lot of trouble (think Don't Look Now), so the change in the relationships between men and women – i.e. the ease of divorce, and the acceptance of living together as normal – renders a lot of 19th century drama outdated.
And yet Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary and other such intense stories still move us, and so – in theory – should this one. And yet it doesn't. I yield to no one in my admiration of Elizabeth Olsen who is at least as fine an actress as Jennifer Lawrence, and has the face of extraordinary mobility and beauty. Jessica Lange is also an exceptional performer. And yet … The story just never takes off. And I think we have to hold the writer and director responsible, especially since they are the same person – a certain Charlie Stratton, who I've never heard of, but who fails to inject enough life and verve into the proceedings.
Costume drama and tragedy do not need plodding literalness. They need fire, spark and energy. In Secret has none of them. It unfolds with a certain weary inevitability. But just because we all know it's all going to end in tears doesn't mean there isn't any fun to be had along the way. Such a waste of a great pair of actresses.