Just in time for your post-Valentine’s low, In Secret serves up a murky bowl of curdled desire, soured by a generous dollop of good old-fashioned guilt.
No, wait — come back! It’s good, honest! It’s the kind of morality tale that works because the morality comes from inside: inside the characters, inside their intimate relationships, inside the world they happen to inhabit.
It’s a tough, dimly lit, 19th-century France sort of world, one in which a man drops off his young daughter Therese with his sister and never returns, leaving her to serve as the “guardian angel” for her sickly cousin. His coughs and sweats haunt her nighttime hours because, you see, they share a bed. And when the deadbeat Daddy dies a decade or so later, Aunt Mom hits upon a brilliant plan: the cousins can share a bed again, this time as husband and wife. The guardian angel can keep eternal watch, and besides, the arrangement makes it easier to keep the inheritance in the family. After all, hasn’t she raised the child as her own? Isn’t she deserving? Still, small wonder that our heroine finds herself tempted to stray — and worse.
That’s how the film works: everyone comes in for a measure of sympathy. The hand that tugs the heartstring gets a bit heavy at various points in the script, but the casting covers a multitude of sins: the four principals are all excellent. Oscar Isaac smolders and pouts as the raffish artist Laurent, and Tom Felton lends pathetic humanity to Camille, the doomed husband. Even so, they are merely terrestrial bodies operating by the light of the sun (Jessica Lange as Madame Raquin) and moon (Elizabeth Olsen as Therese). The image fits: Lange’s proud face is as fierce as any old-time illustration of the radiant star, while Olsen’s smoothly rounded visage is forever glowing with reflected light. Theirs is the great struggle of In Secret: two wounded and desperate women, bound together till death to them part.