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Secrets & Lies

Roxanne drives her mother crazy. Maurice never speaks to his niece. Cynthia has a shock for her family. Monica can't talk to her husband. Hortense has never met her mother.
Secrets & Lies
A middle-aged London factory worker is shocked when the mixed-race daughter she gave up at birth decides to track her down. At first she denies she is her mother. All family members become emotional, as everyone's secrets are exposed.
Title Secrets & Lies
Release Date 1996-05-24
Genres Drama
Production Companies Channel Four Films, October Films, Thin Man Films, CiBy 2000
Production Countries United Kingdom, France


SECRETS AND LIES is a 1996 film by Mike Leigh that, appropriately enough, is concerned with the things that members of a family conceal from each other. Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a black woman in London who has made a successful career as an optician, knew from a young age that she was adopted, but only after her adopted mother's death does she decide to look up her birth mother. Hortense is shocked to find that it is Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn), not just white but living in near-poverty and wallowing in regret. Cynthia has a tumultuous relationship with her acknowledged daughter Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook), who she fears to be repeating her own youthful mistakes. Cynthia also finds its hard to relate to her brother Maurice (Timothy Spall) and his cold wife Monica (Phyllis Logan), who have done well from a photo shop business. Hortense's entry into this family ultimately shatters their miserable status quo, but not without some heartbreak on the way. At this point in his career, Mike Leigh had perfected a filmmaking technique by which he had his actors live out their roles in everyday situations in the street for weeks before he started shooting. Consequently, by the time these actors were captured on film, they are totally convincing as their characters, and the characters are fleshed out through the little details that Leigh allowed to bring to them in improvising. The viewer feels that he knows these people deeply. Leigh also has a way of mixing pathos and humour. He not only will insert a comedic shot after a poignant one, but he'll then present ambiguous images where the viewer is unsure whether he should laugh or cry. While the acting and that dash of humour is quite powerful, there are elements that hold me back from universally praising this film. I've never been impressed by Leigh's use of music, which feels cheap, and only one shot (a deftly timed outdoor barbecue) was truly impressive in its mis-en-scène. And I find Leigh's previous film Naked a slightly more successful application of his art. Still, the acting in SECRETS AND LIES is really something, and I would generally recommend this film.

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