Secrets & Lies

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Product Description

After her adoptive parents die, a young black woman seeks out her natural birth mother, only to discover her mother is white, thus setting in motion the revelation of a whole series of secrets and lies.

If a film fan had never heard of director Mike Leigh, one might explain him as a British Woody Allen. Not that Leigh's films are whimsical or neurotic; they are tough-love examinations of British life--funny, outlandish, and biting. His films share a real immediacy with Allen's work: they feel as if they are happening now. Leigh works with actors--real actors--on ideas and language. There is no script at the start (and sometimes not at the end). Secrets and Lies involves Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), an elegant black woman wanting to learn her birth mother's identity. She will find it's Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn), who is one of the saddest creatures we've seen in film. She's also one of the most real and, ultimately, one of the most lovable. Timothy Spall is Cynthia's brother, a giant man full of love who is being slowly defeated by his fastidious wife (Phyllis Logan).

There is a great exuberance of life in Secrets & Lies, winner of the Palme D'Or and best actress (Blethyn) at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival--not Zorba-type life but the little battles fought and won every day. Leigh's honest interpretation of daily life is usually found only on the stage. Secrets & Lies is more realistic than a stage production, however, especially when Leigh shows us uninterrupted scenes. Critic David Denby states that Leigh has "made an Ingmar Bergman film without an instant of heaviness or pretension." If that sounds like your cup of tea, see Secrets & Lies. --Doug Thomas

Customer Reviews:

  • Keep This Secret
    Imagine Buffy and Jodie as foul-mouthed, spiteful white trash and you get the picture of this family affair from hell.

    If you want someone to blame, see Mike Leigh. The British writer and director has been making ugly, challenging, and consistently winning dramas for twenty-five years, and it's about time he gained some popular attention. Here it's Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) who gets Leigh's star treatment. She's a black optometrist in search of her biological mommy who, it turns out, is a comical cockney white woman named Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn).

    With more courage than I have, Hortense shares coffee with the poor, disheveled woman. This scene is a gem of slow-burning recognition and pain, as Cynthia realizes that the successful black woman before her is indeed her child. The two then meet again and develop a fast friendship.

    Meanwhile Cyn's chubby brother--a gentle soul named Maurice (Timothy Spall)--is busy keeping his photography studio solvent. Too bad he can't do the same for his family (Do these people belong on Jerry Springer, or what?).

    Leigh makes the ordinary transcendent. The picture-perfect moments Maurice captures on film is the metaphor Leigh splendidly uses to make us aware of the life lived between the camera clicks--life that often forces us to hide the Secrets and Lies buried within our own hearts....more info

  • Secrets & Lies Import leaves much to be desired
    I'm a big fan of the movie Secrets & Lies, so when I heard that it was finally out on DVD I rushed to get it. When it arrived it was an import from Hong Kong with Chinese subtitles that cannot be shut off. The transfer quality is about equal to (or even less than) the VHS version, and there are no extras. While I'm glad I can jump to a scene, I wouldn't be in a great hurry to purchase this disc. Wait until it's done by another company in a more conscientious and fuller way....more info
  • Do you come from a family? This is your film.
    A superb script most touching to those who come from a family--and of course, most especially, to those who come from a family wrapped in secrets and lies....more info
  • Great Sunday afternoon movie
    As an adult adoptee, I found the premise of this movie really interesting (young woman decides to find birthmother, locates her, is surprised by what she finds - and there's much more to it) so I ordered it and sat down to watch it with my husband on a Sunday afternoon. It's a very well-written story (although some of the editing/direction is a little choppy)and very "real" - there's no fantasy world here. The acting is fantastic and very touching, accurately reflecting the upheaval (and fulfillment) that adoption reunions can bring. This is certainly not a comedy, it's a fairly heavy story, but emotionally fulfilling....more info
  • Wonderfully funny and moving
    If you're a fan of Brenda Blethyn, this is a film not to be missed. Cynthia [Blethyn] has spent her entire life searching for love. Each time she thought she'd found it, she was left holding the baby. She's looked after her father until his death, and remained in the dilapidated rented home, working at a factory.
    Cynthia's brother Maurice [Timothy Spall] is a successful photographer whose wife has little time for Cynthia. These two women are both jealous of what the other has.
    Set in London, the time could just as easily be today or 30 years ago as Maurice plans 21st birthday celebrations for his niece. A few glasses of bubbly and all the secrets and lies of more than two decades unfold. Wonderfully funny and moving.
    ...more info
  • Honest Character Study!
    This fascinating, extremely entertaining, emotionally wrenching slice of life is easily amongst the best films of the 90's. Superb acting from everyone involved. Brenda Blethyn, Maryanne Jean-Baptiste and Timothy Spall are standouts. Mike Leigh is a genis when it comes to portraying human emotions on screen, he does it with such easiness and honesty that you feel like 'one of the family'. Great story with wonderful dialogue. Mike Leigh uses 'real' actors and you can tell that by the length of every scene. A raw and emotional experience. One of the best movies of 1996. Highly recommended. From a scale of 1-10 I give this movie a 9!...more info
  • Simply excellent...characters brought to life
    Magnificient acting from all casts. Its a must see for any fan of Mike Leigh. A simple story line but the actors have managed to bring out the best from their individual character. My favorite character is Uncle Maurice who was able to relate to many day to day characters. Whats special about Mike Leigh is his movies can relate to the people on the street....more info
  • When is this movie coming out??
    This movie is genius in the fact that there was no script and absolutely phenominally acted. It received Oscar nominations that included major categories (Best film, actress, and supporting actress). It is one of the best movies from England and should have received more attention. Please watch this movie, it is incredible!...more info
  • A must see
    Why this movie is restricted to over-18'sis a mystery to me.It has some of the most superb acting, and very creative directing you will see.The "natural" meeting of the two women near the beginning of the movie is a masterpiece, the more so because it really was natural (they hadn't met before!) The cast istop class from top to bottom, even the bitparts. Brenda Blethyn will drive you crazy with her persistent, whining "darlin", but you'll love her just the same....more info
  • Mike Leigh's most accessible, emotional film - just perfect
    I've seen a good number of Mike Leigh's films over the years, from early works like Bleak Moments and Abigail's Party to later indie hits like Life Is Sweet, Naked, and High Hopes, but THIS is his BEST, most perfectly realized film to date - from the pitch-perfect performances of the entire cast (due to months of exhaustive rehearsal to develop the each character no matter how small or large the role) to the understated, minimalist direction to the somber score to the conversational "script," SECRETS & LIES slowly builds until its cumulative effect toward the climax is one of the deepest emotional blows ever deliver on film - you feel as if you KNOW and LIVE with these people, so that they cease to be mere characters on screen and, well, like your own circle of family and friends - not always pretty, often messy, always brilliant, SECRETS & LIES deserves to be on DVD to a wider audience can share in its spell it casts over you. My only gripe is Fox's typically bare-bones DVD format - c'mon, NO commentary from Leigh on his creative process, NO insights from the cast, many of which went on to win a clutch of awards and crossover American work (Blethyn, Baptiste, etc.), NO featurette or DELETED scenes! The film itself is enough, I just wish there were a bit more to flesh out the entire experience....more info
  • Secret and Lies - Chinese Import
    Movie is superlative. DVD is very poor. It has no DVD menu. It is impossible to turn the Chinese subtitles off....more info
  • highly recommendable
    This movie about family secrets is wonderfully funny and touching at the same time, very entertaining, how a black girl, well educated and wealthy, finds out about her real mother. That one is a white frustrated working class lady, who first cannot accept the truth. Thrilling how all the family secrets are finally unveiled. A film for all ages. ...more info
    ABSOLUTELY ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES EVER! It is so touching and so beautiful. Cynthia's brother is the one who really says it all when they are at the birthday MUST see it to hear what it is...and it will make you realize that what is essential is invisible to the eye...

    Does color matter at all...???? NO!!! If only we all could realize this.

    BEAUTIFUL, TOUCHING, WELL ACTED, deserved all awards that it got...and then some.

    SEE IT!...more info

  • Mike Leighs best???
    Just maybe his finest work. As ever very moving and often very funny with wonderful perfdormances, most especially from timothy Spall. there are minor faults of course (it wouldnt be a mike leigh without them), but is there any director so skilled at tackling real issues and genuine experiences in such a sympathetic and entertaining manner. No. Superb stuff. Buy it and enjoy.....more info
  • a very good movie
    a very good movi...more info
  • Kitchen-sink comedy/drama with heart
    Mike Leigh's film won Best Picture at the Cannes Film Festival. A young black woman decides to find her birth-mother only to discover her mother is white, just one among many of the SECRETS & LIES of this tale. A first-rate cast delivers knock-out performances. A bit on the long side, the film has both drama and comical moments, with a healthy helping of tenderness. The DVD has a good quality transfer of the widescreen original but no bonus features apart from the trailer (and a few other trailers). A first-rate comedy/drama with heart!...more info
  • One of my favorite films
    If you want to see a great film, look no further. From plot to performance, you won't do better than this movie. Excellent direction. One of my favorite scenes is the scene where mother and daughter are having one of their first conversations, both facing the camera. Such rich performances by everyone make it a joy to see. I wish there were more films out there like this one. ...more info
  • Mike Leigh's Brilliant Depiction of Private Family Life...
    The film begins with the funeral of Hortense Cumberbatch's (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) stepmother. Hortense, a black successful optometrist, is highly curious about the identity of her birthmother as she has been aware since childhood that she was adopted. Through an adoption agency she receives the papers that prove the identity of her birth mother, which initially seems to be erroneous, as she appears to be white. Hortense then decides to take the big step to contact her birth mother whom she has never known for over thirty years.

    The mother, Cynthia Rose Purley, (Brenda Blethyn) a chain smoking co-dependent anxiety ridden factory worker lives in the same council house, which her parents lived in as she nursed them to their death bed. Cynthia shares the house with her daughter, Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook), who works as a street cleaner. The relationship between Roxanne and Cynthia is strained as Cynthia is clinging onto Roxanne through questions and continuous hassle. Roxanne is also spoiled by Cynthia's younger and successful brother Maurice (Timothy Spall) and his wife, which seems to add strain between Cynthia and Roxanne.

    Secrets & Lies is a wonderful film that projects a family's lack of communication and difficulty in understanding one another. Mike Leigh touches the very essence of humanity as the family avoids the difficult issues through white lies and tiny secrets. The family creates several little fabrications that have been complied over several decades and when Hortense appears she functions as catalyst for the truth. It should be mentioned that the secret of Hortense is only a minor part of the all the secrets.

    The intimate direction of Mike Leigh creates an authentic family atmosphere that is brought to the audience as if it was the audience's own family. This generates a genuine feeling within the audience as the story unfolds. The cast performs brilliantly as they enhance the cinematic quality of the story. Brenda Blethyn performs as Cynthia with real conviction, and she received the reward for best actress for this part in Cannes in 1996. Ultimately, Secrets & Lies offers a truly brilliant cinematic event that touches the soul as the characters exorcise the family demons.
    ...more info
  • Funny, realistic, and ultamately heart warming. A must see!
    The Brits really have a way of telling stories with blunt humor and realistic situations. This is for sure the case with Mike Leigh's film 'Secrets And Lies'. This is a story about none other than secrets and lies, and the consequences they bring. Cynthia Rose Purly is a single mother living in London with her twentyish year old daughter Roxanne. Their relationship begins to crumble due to a lack of communication and built up agression from past events. Cynthia's secret is her first born daughter, Hortense, who was given up for adoption shortly after birth. Emotions rise when Hortense successfully finds Cynthia, leading to a climactic revealing and resolving of every characters secrets and lies. Brenda Blethyn is amazing as Cynthia Purly. Don't miss this cinematical gem....more info
  • Beautiful Truth
    "Secrets and lies! We're all in pain! Why can't we share our pain? I've spent my entire life trying to make people happy, and the three people I love the most in the world hate each other's guts, and I'm in the middle! I can't take it anymore!"

    One of the most beautiful, heart-breaking, heart-warming, Truthful movies that I have ever seen....more info
  • Golden performance collectively. Leigh's genius shines.
    With regards to it's level of poignancy and bittersweetness this film rates with Mike Leigh's other film "Career Girls".
    In terms of acting ability EVERYONE in this film, even the cute dog who poses for the camera, gives the performance of their lives and should've received awards. Few films leave me trembling with emotion but also loving all the characters. Timothy Spall's performance is just TOTALLY beyond explanation. I just loved his line "That's life isn't it? Somebody always has to draw the short straw" when he was speaking to the young lady with a facial scar. The power behind that line really got me thinking.
    In the end basically we ALL draw the short straw although we might get there by different means.
    Brenda Blethyn must've been an emotional wreck after this film similar to the character she plays. How she kept up constant weeping baffles me.
    Marianne Jean -Baptiste is just beautiful. What a stunning, multi-talented actress.
    Claire Rushbrook's character reminds me of so many characters i knew back in London. Good , honest hearted people, slightly near the edge but then we ALL are near the edge in truth.
    A more candid look at life could not be put on film but then this is what Mike Leigh excels in.
    Leigh's criticised sometimes for making his scenes dismal (although it's sunny throughout this one) and his characters wretched, beyond salvation and to be pitied but far from it. After all what he unearths is the truth that exists in families, the skeletons in the closets.
    If this film had been done in Hollywood it would never have the same impact.
    It's a petty argument indeed but some folk have suggested that Marianne Jean-Baptistes character is too dark skinned for her considered being of mixed parentage. I can tell them otherwise. It CAN occur on rare occasions and i have firsthand proof of this. Genetics is something we still don't have full control over, thankfully.
    Forget analysing this film in detail and just enjoy a collective solid gold standard of performance. ...more info
  • Sensational
    I didn't see this movie when it first came out, i waited till it came on Cable, and watched everytime it came on, and I love it so much, that I found myself working out to it, each time I saw different things, the actors, Timothy Spall one of my favorite actors and others did a very good job, I think its one of the best movies to view....more info
    Apart from listening to the supremely annoying voice of Brenda Blethyn this film is perfect. It is not overdrawn, overlong, or too far out of the realm of reality. The story is unusual, the script is well written, the cast is very down to earth seeming (which is something special about British films. Real people seem to populate the cast rather than out of this world beauties). Blethyn is excellent in her role as a beleaguered single mother, rather ditzy,...and not overly bright. She struggles to make ends meet and to take care of her daughter, who is also not the most pleasant person to get along with. A second storyline focuses on Blethyn’s character’s brother, Maurice, who is a photographer. He is heartbroken because he and his wife have done everything in the world to try to have children but cannot. They are the only other two people in the world, besides Blethyn, who know that Blethyn once gave birth to a child (when she was barely a teen herself) which she gave up for adoption. One day a woman named Hortense phones Blethyn and tells her that she is the daughter Blethyn once gave up for adoption. Blethyn is horrified, and this starts her emotional roller coaster and her awakening a whole host of new feelings about this daughter. They start up a relationship, but only after Blethyn is reluctantly forced to conquer the fact that this abandoned daughter is black. At first she is incredulous and refuses to believe it and says she never had sex with a black man, but she has a breakdown when she realises she did. It is not clearly spelled out for us (which is another fabulous aspect of foreign films which leave much to the viewer’s conjecture) but it is alluded to that Blethyn may have been raped by Hortense’s father. Blethyn hides the relationship with Hortense from the daughter she has reared and also from her brother and his wife, until she invites Hortense to a birthday party for her younger daughter and introduces her as a friend from work. Eventually Blethyn breaks down and cries (as she often does throughout the movie, which lends emotional credibility but is incredibly hard on the ears) and confesses that Hortense is her daughter. This creates a huge amount of turmoil but all turns out all right in the end. A beautifully written film and worth viewing....more info
  • Classic Mike Leigh flick finally makes it to DVD
    Dysfunction is better than no function at all in Mike Leigh's "Secrets and Lies". Finally available on DVD to coincide with the Oscar nomination actress Imelda Staunton received for "Vera" (another film directed by Leigh), "Secrets and Lies" tells the story of a successful and well-to-do black woman Hortense Cumberbatch ( Oscar nominated Marianne Jean-Baptiste of "Without a Trace") who tracks down her birth mother. It seems her mother was a lower-class white woman named Monica Purley (Brenda Blethyn, Golden Globe winner and multiple Oscar nominee). Monica denies that she's Hortense's mother but gradually comes to accept and embrace her daughter despite their differences. A bittersweet comedy full of commanding performances, "Secrets and Lies" was a surprising box office success (hence its recognition by the Academy and the multiple nominations it deservedly earned). With rewarding performances all around and Leigh's naturalistic style, "Secrets and Lies" was a winner whether or not it pulled down any gold at Oscar time. Not bad for a guy who used to play in a band with Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music fame.

    Many of Leigh's films feature uncompromising performances and partially improvised scripts. This collaborative method makes Leigh's films both unique and memorable even when they aren't very good. Luckily, "Secrets and Lies" is very, very good.

    Sadly, this is a pretty bare bones affair. We get the original theatrical trailer and the theatrical trailers for "Author! Author!", "Blood & Wine" and "Class Action". It's a pity as 10 years on, it might have been interesting to catch up with the actors and the impact that their Oscar nominations had on their respective careers. There's also no commentary track but the drama speakes pretty well for itself.

    A terrific, bittersweet comedy "Secrets and Lies" details the ordinary secrets we keep to ourselves and hide from each other. Leigh's marvelous direction and the ensemble cast's terrific performances elevate this from a simple movie-of-the-week on something like the Lifetime channel. Leigh's inspired approach to improvising much of the movie's dialogue with his cast (based on his character sketches and background story) creates a drama that is much closer to neo-realism in approach than just about any other film made within the last two decades. Although Leigh's made a number of stunning films, "Secrets and Lies" certainly deserves its reputation as one of his finest glimpses behind the curtain of subterfuge that's a part of the ordinary people in this terrific story.

    ...more info
  • excellant film with many reasons to watch it
    i found the movie was incredibly moving with all the issues it brought to light. It has a great impact on how people view issues such as race and class. i feel mike leigh addressed these views in careful and sympathetic way. so in conclusion i feel its a mood felt and interesting movie....more info
  • Slow, "heavy", but worthy...
    Hortense, a young black woman, loses her adoptive Mother and commences a search to find her birth mother. She learns that her birth mother is Cynthia, a single parent working in a stamping factory and just making things meet. The story grows when secrets and lies begin to come out - and explode during a birthday barbecue for Cynthia's 21 year old daughter.

    Reviews describe this movie as "hysterically funny and profoundly sad". While there were flashes of humor in the movie, I would agree with the "profoundly sad" characterization and there was plenty of gloom to go around here.

    The first 30-45 minutes of setting the stage were quite slow so hang in there as the storyline starts to become quite engaging. The casting and acting by/for all of the major characters is terrific - the psychological anguish is apparent from the get-go - and the cinematography is wonderful.

    ...more info
  • Making No Secret of My Opinion of This FIlm
    When black, middle-class optometrist Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) loses her adopted-mother she is devestated but it fuels her even more to find her birth-mother and see how she is living. Her birth mother is, of course, Brenda Blethyn's Cynthia a white factory worker with a history of failed relationships, a second daughter (Claire Rushbrook) who despises her and a snobby sister-in-law (Phyllis Logan) who, it seems, manipulates her husband (Timothy Spall) against Cynthia. But it is not just Hortense and Cynthia who have a family secret....

    Well-deserving all it's awards and nominations, this film really is full of truth, perception, advice and fine acting. I confess it took me a while to get into but I found it well worth the patience and it is one of those thought-provoking films that will leave a lasting impression....more info

  • Adoption's secret side revealed...
    I love films, and I loved this film. But as an adoptee, in the process of reunion (in the states, where it is unecassarily, and painfully harder to search), this film touched places in me that it couldn't for the other reviewers.
    My reunion has been eerily similar to the characters' in this film-
    an Aunt, who thought my sister had a right to know about me, who loved her nieces and resented their mother for squandering her oppurtunity at motherhood, when she couldn't have the children she so desperately wanted, and who finally faced the truth of that resentment, and the reality of her situation.
    A birthmother, who though she can't quite get it together, for the love of her children, tries to reach within herself to find the strength to face her past, to turn to the truth instead of secrets.
    The quiet person in the background that holds everyone together, when they are trying their best to tear themselves apart -that would be the photographer in the film- who, although seemingly disinterested with his job a times, it's quite clear it's his only escape from the dysfunction of his family, and the only light in his existence.
    The adoptee- who, though she wants to know her roots so badly, is ill prepared for these wounds that have run so deep, for so long. She doesn't want to displace anyone in the process of the reunion, but fights her own internal needs constantly, so she can get some peace and closure, and not just have the door slammed in her face. Although she has done well for herself, you can see in Hortense' eyes, that piece of herself is missing, that part of herself that isn't like anyone else she's known in her life. That is the burden you can see visibly lifted of Hortense' shoulders in the final scenes, and you can even see those little pieces finding their way back into everyone's hearts.
    Some of the looks, and emotions you can see Hortense going through, are ones I just felt a month ago, or even last week. Unless you have walked in her shoes, you couldn't know what some of the looks she gives Monica mean. For me, though, those looks were some of the most poignant moments in the film. This film definetely has all the elements of a great film, but more importantly to me, is how accurate this film can be when looking at the reality of reunions, what they are about, what they feel like. The fact is, reunions bring out all the skeletons in the closet, they reveal the truth, in the end, there are no more secrets and lies, (perhaps that's why people have fought here in the state's to keep the records sealed).
    It's just too bad the state's don't allow adoptees or birthparents the right to heal, like Britain does in this film (with their open records). They add to the pain with their antiquated take on adoption. If you are so moved by this film, I encourage you to look into supporting an open records cause....more info
  • Secrets and Lies.
    This movie is brilliant and Brenda Blethyn gives the best performance ever. The film was made without a set script and is a testament to the talent of the actors....more info
  • It should have won for best movie of the year
    This is one of the movies that you can watch again and again - it is such a fresh, original movie! It makes me cry even after repeated viewings. A must for any video collection...more info
  • Secrets & Lies
    I found this to be a well-executed movie. In each scene, the viewer is exposed to more and more of the characters' personalities. This movie makes you think. We're not really told what happened to "Cynthia" - how she ended up giving birth to a black baby. In the scene at the coffee shop, she has a flash-back and realizes what had happened to her when she was 16 years old. She's too ashamed to tell her daughter about her biological father....more info
  • superb acting
    A heart warming look at very personal issues that affect the actions of certain individuals. Inspiration to be more open with loved ones....more info
  • Wonderful movie
    Has wonderful humor and drama. It deserved the Oscar attention it got in it's day....more info
  • Does the truth really hurt??
    A sincere English production about a successful middle-class black lady,Hortense looking for her birth mother,Cynthia who turned out to be white and lower-class. Secrets were uncover and lies were being told. Eventually lead to discovering everybody's darkest secrets and all those white lies.

    Mike Leigh wrote this brilliant script and with skillful direction made this film unique and realistic. Brenda Blethyn gave an excellent,flawless performance as Cynthia Rose Purley. With creditable supporting casts like Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Hortense, Timothy Spall as Maurice Purley etc..

    This compelling movie made me wonder--"Does the truth really hurt"?? It also showed the importance of family support,love and care....more info

  • A triumph
    A mild-mannered, intelligent young black woman (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) tracks down her birth mother, Cynthia Purley (Brenda Blethyn), who just happens to be white. That's only the central plot thread in Mike Leigh's very poignant, very funny, very smart family drama, which received well-deserved Oscar nominations for best picture, best director, best actress, best supporting actress, and best original screenplay. A keenly observed piece set in middle-class and upper middle-class England, "Secrets & Lies" offers such an abundance of riches it's hard to know where to begin.

    The plot is fairly simple, though the emotions beneath it aren't. Cynthia is initially afraid to meet the child she gave up years ago, but eventually opens up and discovers that her long-lost daughter, Hortense, is not only a sweet and refined young lady, but the possible source of the love and affection she wants so badly. She receives none of that sort of attention from her other daughter, Roxanne, a bitter, sharp-tongued council worker who, like her secret half-sister, was conceived out of wedlock. Adding to the tension is Cynthia's relationship with her brother, Maurice, and his socially ambitious wife, Monica. The latter is pained by her inability to have a child, and particularly despises Cynthia, who is able to bear children but, in Monica's mind, unable to provide them with the family environment and opportunities that she can. All of these threads converge at an afternoon birthday party, during which all the pent-up secrets and lies explode like a sequence of fireworks. Emotions are laid bare, the past is revealed, and finally, the film hints, the healing process can begin.

    A synopsis really doesn't do full justice to the sheer impact of this film. In fact, it's almost insulting--and irrelevant--to discuss plot at all. "Secrets & Lies" isn't about plot in the conventional sense; it's about people. Each character is a complex, fully realized human being, brought to life by superior acting. Brenda Blethyn in particular does a spectacular job, and her Cynthia emerges as one of the most hilarious, endearing, and noble human portraits I've ever seen captured on film. Marianne Jean-Baptiste has a less showy role, but she occupies it with equally genuine warmth and humility. The other performances are consistently excellent, with Timothy Spall (Maurice) and Phyllis Long (Monica), who play tortured but thoroughly sympathetic characters, among the standouts.

    The actors are complimented by Leigh's superb direction. Each shot has clearly been carefully thought-out, but the camera is so unobtrusive, so casually observing, that it lends "Secrets & Lies" an almost documentary-like feel. And yet, Leigh's compassion for all his characters leaks through every frame. One of the best scenes in the film takes place in a teashop, with Cynthia and Hortense sharing a first meeting that moves from initial awkwardness to humor and hilarity, to intense sadness and finally to catharsis and relief. The scene is an unbroken, unedited single shot lasting for nearly eight minutes, and Blethyn and Jean-Baptiste sustain the dramatic tension for that long without missing a beat. It is a seamless culmination of acting, writing, and cinematography, and represents (I think) one of the most remarkable and honest shots ever committed to celluloid.

    Therein lies the secret to the success of "Secrets & Lies"--every moment in the film feels real. That quality is aided by the fact that, as is the case in all of Leigh's other films, the screenplay is a collaboration between both writer/director and actors. The dialogue never sounds scripted or contrived because most of it has been improvised by the actors themselves; thus, it's no wonder that the characters all but leap off the screen, and that spending time with them is such an engaging and rewarding experience.

    Some have criticized the film's overly "happy" ending, claiming that it feels a bit too pat to be real. I disagree. The conclusion, though admittedly more optimistic a resolution than most conflicted families can expect, remains utterly true to the characters' personalities and backgrounds. Actually, Leigh trumps the notion that all films attempting to illuminate the human condition must be overly bleak and pessimistic.

    "Secrets & Lies" is not a fast-paced film, and at 152 minutes, it's quite long. It could have gone on for hours and hours as far as I was concerned. Mike Leigh has confirmed my long-held notion that American cinema could definitely learn a thing or two from the sure-and-steady British. Without a doubt, one of the best films, if not the best, of 1996....more info

  • It should of won alot of oscars!
    This movie was brilliantly acted and is very emotional.Brenda Blethyn definitley should of won Best Actress i am disappointd that she didn't.All the other actors i did not recognize but they definitley should be for there great performance.This movie can make you sympathize with people that led bad lives(Brenda Blethyn is the main one at mind)It's hard to believe that a woman can be so sweet with a daughter that is so bitchy!There isn't really anything else to say than you really need to see this movie....more info
  • Quick ship - Perfect Condition
    This is a classic movie - one most everyone should own. Anyone should be able to relate to something in the movie. It is so well directed and acted that I tend to get lost in the reality of the story. It would be a dis-service to applaud one actor over another. They were all at their best. Don't miss this. ...more info
  • So many excellent reasons to see this stunning film
    I find it impossible to recommend this movie strongly enough. I recently saw it for the first time, and oddly enough knew next to nothing about it. A year or so ago I saw TOPSY-TURVY with some friends, and they were raving about Mike Leigh as a filmmaker. So, when looking through my local video store for something new and intersting to view, two names jumped out at me from the box: Mike Leigh and Brenda Blethyn, whose performance in LITTLE VOICE had impressed me greatly.

    I absolutely loved TOPSY-TURVY, but I am not sure but that SECRETS AND LIES is the stronger film. Less flashy, and I can easily imagine someone who does not enjoy dealing exclusively with interpersonal dynamics not particularly enjoying this. But for anyone who can appreciate an intense family drama, this film will be tough to top.

    But the thing that most impressed me about SECRETS AND LIES is the acting. Brenda Blethyn was even better here than she was in LITTLE VOICE. In fact, I honestly do not know of any performance by an actor or actress anywhere that I can say is demonstrably better. I just sat in front of my VCR agog at her performance. I later read that she won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival, the British Academy Awards, and the Golden Globe Awards. The only award she failed to win was the Oscar, for which she was nominated, but which went instead to Frances MacDormand in FARGO. I loved FARGO and thought MacDormand did a great job, but if you watch these two performances side by side, you gain additional proof that the voters for the Oscars either do not watch all the films or see this as a sort of popularity contest. Frances MacDormand's performance was cute and her accent was convincing, but Brenda Blethyn's performance was the emotional equivalent of a fist to the guts. Brenda Blethyn should have swept all the acting awards that year with ease. I honestly do not remember a performance anywhere in which so much genuine, intense, and overwhelming emotion is projected. If you have not seen this movie, you owe it to yourself just to see Brenda Blethyn inconceivably great performance.

    I was also pleased to see Timothy Spall again, who did such an excellent job of playing so sympathetically Richard Temple (the actor who created the title role in THE MIKAIDO) in TOPSY-TURVY. I have not seen him in every many roles, but after seeing him perform so well in these two very, very different roles, I very much want to see him again....more info

  • Easily one of the best films of the 90's...
    The performance given by Timothy Spall in this film is probably the best I ever seen in any film. His character is so real and believable it's often hard to be aware that you're not watching a documentary! In fact the whole film is like watching life as it happens out of your window. All the actors give brilliant performances, and the story is very moving. One of my Top 5 all-time favourite films......more info
  • "Why can't we share our pain?"
    I would call this Mike Leigh's masterpiece, only I've seen many films by this brilliant director since screening this unfairly overlooked gem, and I feel ANY of his movies could be categorized as a "masterpiece".

    The movie centers on a black woman named Hortense (the multi-talented Marianne Jean-Baptiste) who, knowing she is adopted, is in the process of trying to discover the identity of her birth mother. She finds her real mother, a lower-class white woman named Cynthia Purley (Brenda Blethyn). Cynthia, unaware that Hortense is trying to look her up, has a more immediate problem - a rebellious daughter, Roxanne (the unfairly ignored Claire Rushbrook), who has no respect for her because of Cynthia's many affairs. Cynthia is also trying to reach out to her successful photographer-brother, Morris (perennial Leigh favorite Timothy Spall), but she can't quite get close to him because of the influence of Morris's seemingly cold wife, Monica (Phyllis Logan).

    If anyone knows anything of Mike Leigh's style of direction, you'll know why this film is so amazing . . Leigh doesn't simply write a screenplay and tell the actors what to do, he allows them to improvise and develop the characters themselves; the result is that these characters are more than just one-dimensional cardboard cutouts. ALL of these characters are unable to be categorized; they have characteristics that are UNIQUE and that make us care about them. Their complexity is illustrated not only in their actions and by what they say, but by what is NOT done or said in specific instances. ACTIONS of the characters are important (notice, for example, Hortense's inability to react emotionally, even in the family setting, or her reluctance to touch anyone). Another interesting feature is the way Leigh juxtaposes scenes of Morris taking pictures in his photography shop with the events of the story; we even become enamored by the characters that are seen only briefly, for a second, behind Morris's lens, posing for photographs. The cinematography also helps to add to the film's realism; it has a camcorder effect, without being at all shaky or deficient in sound quality.

    Finally, the ending: Some may find the ending overly sentimental; I found it remarkably real (and nowhere NEAR as sugary sweet as those found in Hollywood films). Let me only say that it succeeds in that the viewer isn't given total resolution, yet he is given HOPE; these characters CAN work out their problems with each other, and it raises a question that I (as one who is no stranger to family feuding), find very convicting: why, in family situations, do people so often choose to alienate themselves and suffer alone (often even punishing their loved ones, as illustrated by Roxanne and Monica), instead of SHARING their pain and helping one another?

    A great film . .worthy of much praise and able to withstand repeated viewings because of the depth of the story and the people involved. Here's hoping Mike Leigh will retain his style of filmmaking for years to come....more info

  • true gem on family relations
    I remember my wife renting this film years ago when it first came out, and loving it for its very realistic portrayal of a family not in crisis but in a kind of bad equilibrium of recrimination and misunderstanding. Well, I just saw it agian and it met the test: I was moved all over again, I laughed at the wonderful dialogue ("you been sittin there for two months with a face like a slapped a**") and acting, and found the resolution realistic. This is a truly wonderful film. At the center of a film is a brave young black woman searching for her birth mother. She meets her uncle, who is a truly courageous yet completely mundane man to all appearences.

    Warmly recommended....more info
  • Must see film!
    SECRETS AND LIES is a must see English film with oustanding performances from the entire cast. Without giving the storyline away, the film will provide you with laughs and tears.
    Many reviews complain about the DVD copy they have purchased (with unremovable chinese subtitles and poor picture) In Australia, a company called THE GLOBE FILM CO have released an excellent DVD version, with great picture transfer. Keep an eye out for it, if you want to own a decent copy....more info
  • Excellent, Excellent, Excellent
    The first time I heard of this movie was on Roger & Ebert when they were reviewing it and then I was able to see it on cable and was glued to the tv every time it came on. Loved the way the different stories were told and how they interwined at the "birthday party". The acting was excellent and it is great to watch other cinema besides the U.S....more info
  • A brilliant piece of realism.
    This movie made me laugh and cry. It was so real and so human it was like somebody took a camera and hit it in the walls of the house of a real family going through all this. These are the films that deserve the awards. Pictures like this one rarely come out anymore so catch this one. It's a triumph for Mike Leigh and I simply loved Brenda Blethyn's performance as well as Marianne Jean-Baptiste's. Truly this was the Best Picture of the year....more info


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