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IN SECRET

About The Production
"Don't make a noise. Keep quiet."

From the shadowy streets of 1860s Paris comes a story of forbidden desire that leads to murder and intrigue, as a secret love affair transforms into a poisonous obsession. Charlie Stratton's IN SECRET is an intense psychological suspense story that turns a 19th Century tale of romantic scandal into a 21st Century film noir. Featuring an award-winning cast including Elizabeth Olsen, two-time Oscar winner Jessica Lange, Golden Globe nominee Oscar Isaac and Tom Felton, the story takes a repressed young woman into realms of sexual passion and dark impulses she never imagined.

A noted writer for stage and screen, Stratton makes his feature film directorial debut with a story he has been devoted to for more than a decade. The inspiration for IN SECRET goes all the way back to Emile Zola's 1867 novel, "Therese Raquin," which sparked international scandals as soon as it was published. Zola's novel rocked straight-laced society with its frank portrait of unbridled passion, greed and envy among ordinary Parisians - and established the French author as one of the first fearless explorers of everyday human vices.

For Stratton, Zola's themes of intoxicating lust, impulsive behavior and haunting guilt were as provocative as ever - and its story of two people falling into a magnetic tunnel of romantic obsession felt very much alive. His fascination with "Therese Raquin" only deepened when he directed playwright Neal Ball's openly sensual and emotion-fueled stage adaptation of the book for The Wilton Project Theater Company. Both works formed the basis of Stratton's screenplay for IN SECRET.

"At heart, it's a story about that line where passion crosses over into dangerous obsession - and how it can unravel your life. I think we can all relate to that in some way, no matter the scope or the period," Stratton says.

Stratton was inspired to bring the tale to the screen with the taut pacing and kinetic energy of contemporary cinema. "I wanted to maintain some of the purity of Zola's book, and keep the context of his world - but I also wanted to make it intriguing and fully accessible to modern audiences, to create an experience that's also a damn good ride," he explains.

To make the ride at once suspenseful and authentic, Stratton dove into research, roaming through Parisian libraries, trying to immerse himself in the 1865 reality of his lead character Therese - the better to bring it to life as if it was happening right now.

"The source material is so deep and so rich," Stratton notes. "Zola was obsessed with the culture of Paris, so I did great deal of research in Paris studying neighborhood maps, building plans, civil and church records, morgue procedures, even records of which houses had gas installed for lighting ... all crucial clues to daily life in 1860's Paris."

"The photographic works of Nadar and Atget were also tremendously helpful," Stratton continues, referring to two pioneering documentary photographers who captured 1860s Paris. "I would walk the narrow streets where the story is set - research, drawings and old photos in hand - at different times of day or night to study the light, to see what has changed and what has stayed the same. I must have looked like a lunatic but it helped enormously to understand the time and place."

While walking the streets of Paris, Stratton was constantly in mind of how limited the options would have been for a woman like Therese. Full of long-hidden passion, but with no money or family connections, she has no choice but to languish in a lackluster marriage to her sweet but infirm cousin, Camille. When her submerged desires are finally beckoned to the surface by Camille's handsome childhood friend, Laurent, Therese is at first enlivened. Then, she realizes she is trapped. She's a married woman living in a country where the penalty for adultery could be jail or even death for herself and her lover. There is no way out - except one that will send dark waves of destruction rippling through their lives.

For Stratton, Therese is unprepared for how powerfully passion will grip her, and for how impossible it will become for a woman in her circumstances to pursue her longings.

"Before she moves to Paris, Therese has rarely even encountered other people and then suddenly, she meets this man who is magnetic in a way she's never experienced," the director notes. "She's completely pulled into that orbit - and things just accelerate and accelerate. At first, the only thing they can think of is being together, but essentially, Therese lives in a cage. So all she and Laurent have are stolen moments, and they become akin to addicts chasing an adrenaline rush that is more and more difficult to fulfill."

Stratton's portrait of this dangerously addictive love affair - and its harrowing consequences - soon caught the eye of producer and financier Mickey Liddell, who read an early draft of his script. He and his company LD Entertainment became steadfast advocates for the film throughout.

"Mickey and LD Entertainment were wonderful collaborators in so many ways. They were instrumental not only in finding the right time to make the film, but in finding the right cast, a terrific cast who have truly elevated the material," says Stratton.

Also coming on board were producers Pete Shilaimon and William Horberg, who were also drawn in by the noir-like twists and turns of the writing.

"I was smitten with Charlie's vision," says Shilaimon. "What's so interesting is the way he reveals how Therese and Laurent start out willing to do anything to be together, even murder, yet ultimately end up hating and resenting one another. It has the feel of a classic film noir."

Horberg felt similarly. "The script was a joy to read and had that wonderful pleasure of narrative greed where you just want to keep turning the pages to see what happens next because it's unfolding in such a compelling, provocative and exciting way," says the producer.

Also compelling to Horberg was how modern Stratton's take on Zola felt, honing in on themes that would seem equally at home in the hardboiled crime thrillers of such writers as James M. Cain and Patricia Highsmith. "Somehow in the mid 19th century, Zola created a work that anticipated a lot of noir fiction of the 20th century," muses Horberg. "He pioneered an unflinching look at the sociology of the lower depths, at adulterers and criminals."

This all came out not only in Stratton's script, but in his direction. Although IN SECRET would mark Stratton's feature film debut, the producers looked no further for someone who could take the cast into the roiling mix of romance and darkness at the heart of the material.

"There was never any one other than Charlie who could have directed this film," sums up Shilaimon. "He was able to bring to life very detail, every nuance of these characters and this world."

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