Murder ain’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Thérèse Raquin is a very familiar tale from Émile Zola (1867) and it has been adapted to the stage many times as well movies.  I counted at least 15 film versions of the story and they have been made in many languages—including French, German, Swedish, Italian, Spanish and English!  In fact, the James M. Cain story The Postman Always Rings Twice (filmed in 1946 and 1981) is STRONGLY inspired by Zola’s—so strongly that it’s hard to imagine Cain having created his novel without first having read Zola’s story or seen it on film.  Obviously, Zola’s story has touched a lot of people and has become a classic—and it’s a wonderfully moving tale that is relatively timeless as the films have been set in many time periods from the mid-1800s to the present.  But with so many versions out there, are we ready for yet another?

In Secret
Directed by
Charlie Stratton
Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange
Release Date
21 February 2014
Martin’s Grade: A

Thérèse (Elizabeth Olsen) has led a rather pitiful life.  When she was very young, she was dumped on her aunt and was raised by her.  However, it was not an especially happy or loving home.  Instead of being treated like a daughter or even a daughter, Thérèse has become almost like a servant.  Much of her time has been spent taking care of her weak and sickly cousin, Camille (Tom Felton).  And, after years of doing this, the aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange), insists that Thérèse marry Camille.  This is certainly no great love match—more a way to guarantee that Camille will have a woman to care for him after Madame Raquin’s death.

After the marriage, the trio move to Paris and they open a small shop.  Thérèse’s days are spent tending the shop, her evenings are spent caring for Camille and during their free time, the three have friends over so that Camille and his mother can play dominoes.  This is their life–very predictable, a bit dull and lacking in love.  Not surprisingly, deep within Thérèse longs for something more—and it’s easy to feel sorry for the young woman—especially since no one ever seems to worry about her needs.

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One day, Camille brings home an old friend, Laurent (Oscar Isaac).  How the two are friends is difficult to imagine, as they are quite different.  In contrast, Laurent is an artist and is much more outgoing and handsome.  Soon, he and Thérèse become lovers.  As time passes, they realize that they cannot go on like this—something has to give.  Plus, Camille insists that the family move back to the country.  But, instead of breaking up, the pair comes upon the idea of killing Camille!  However, Camille is not a bad guy.  He’s inept as a husband, but he’s also decent and really cares about his wife—and that is what makes the lovers’ plan so reprehensible.  However, I should point out that all this is relatively early in the film.  What follows is an interesting psychological portrait of two people whose beastly actions are, ultimately, their undoing.  How does all this play out?   If you want to know, see this film—and I do strongly recommend you do.

In Secret manages to tell Zola’s story quite well.  Although there apparently were quite a few changes in the cast according to IMDb (many folks dropped out or were replaced), the film comes off beautifully—not that it’s a beautiful story, mind you!  The acting is quite good, the mood (such as the music, colors and cinematography) are appropriately grim and the story has an extremely strong ending.  Well worth seeing, but I must warn you that it’s not what I would consider a pleasant story.  Not surprisingly, I do NOT recommend this film to children!  It is about adultery and murder and only the most insane parent would want their kids watching this!  However, I think it’s appropriate for teens and older, as it is definitely not some fluff piece glamorizing these behaviors but a well thought out story about human nature—particularly the worst aspects of it!

This film is currently available on DVD as well as through Netflix.  Also, an interesting note is that Jessica Lange starred in the 1980s remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice AND stars as Camille’s mother in this film.  She and the rest of the cast were excellent.

Review by Lead Entertainment Writer & Film Critic, Martin Hafer

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