After her adoptive mother dies, Hortense Cumberbatch (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a successful black middle-class optometrist in London, seeks out her birth mother. Her research leads her to a working-class white woman named Cynthia Purley (Brenda Blethyn), who has a dysfunctional family with a few secrets of their own affecting their everyday life.
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!
Mike Leigh is a director I’ve been meaning to get around to discovering, and Secrets & Lies proved to be a great title to start with. Here he paints a realistic portrait of a British working-class family, going through their own personal struggles. The performances across the board feel very lived-in as well, and I believe much of that was due to Leigh’s approach to getting his actors familiar with their characters. Just like their characters, Leigh made it so each actor was only aware of his or her part in the story and learned about the secrets of other characters for the first time as the film progressed. Additionally, much of the script was improvised, so the actors really had to develop their own characters, and it made every action and reaction in the film feel that much more natural.
While not everyone watching this film is experiencing the same issues as the main characters, it’s not hard to sympathize with them and become invested in their story. Whatever the case may be, most families have underlying tensions and some sort of secrets of their own, just like the Purley family. But Secrets & Lies shows no matter how painful the truth can be, it’s better to live through it than keep it hidden from your loved ones.
Secrets & Lies (1996)
Directed by: Mike Leigh
Starring: Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Phyllis Logan, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Claire Rushbrook