Happiness. No one really finds it, do they? No matter how good things are on paper, we're always longing for something. And sometimes, the road to our own nirvana is destined to leave someone else battered by the kerbside - as Anne Manning discovers when cocksure lothario Bill Bule stirs the kind of twinklings that are beyond her husband.
Oscar-winning Gosford Park scripter Julian Fellowes has taken this premise from Nigel Balchin's novel A Way Through The Woods, chopped in some 'whodunnit' intrigue and tried to muster a film that will provoke moralistic musings among comfy couples the world over. And for 60 minutes or so, it works. The excellent, likeable Wilkinson and a curiously sexy Watson make a convincing upper-middle-class Bucks couple, whose only complaint in life appears to be over the consistency of their boiled eggs.
But then, as slimy Bill's entrance coincides with the housekeeper tragedy, the three plummy protagonists' scruples are shoved under the microscope. All the leads prove immensely slick, with Wilkinson in particular bringing a vivid sympathetic edge to the emotional trauma. Still, problems niggle...
The film doesn't quite linger enough with certain issues - especially James' relationship with alluring co-worker Priscilla (Cold Feet's Hermione Norris), introduced but not explored. Surprisingly, there are times when Fellowes' script is disappointingly shallow: as James roars, "Oh, fuck Bill!" before he knows of his wife's indiscretions, Anne responds with the obvious and a bombshell moment descends into cheap wordplay.
Then, just as the action should be reaching an emotional crescendo thanks to a final, shocking revelation, they simply splutter and fade, leaving more questions than answers. Undoubtedly, this was partly Fellowes' intention - in real life, after all, there are few Hollywood endings. But it's still a flat and unsatisfying resolution to a film with a universal premise and an engaging first hour.
A tantalising web of tangled matters of the heart, but not as crisp or cleverly constructed as you'd expect.