Secrets & Lies (1996) starring Brenda Blethyn, Timothy Spall, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Phyllis Logan directed by Mike Leigh Movie Review

Secrets & Lies (1996)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Brenda Blethyn in Secrets & Lies (1996)

Blethyn's No Secret

Following the death of her mother, and her father some years earlier, Hortense Cumberbatch (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a 27-year old black eye specialist decides to try and track down her biological mother having known for a long time she was adopted. Warned by the adoption agencies that things may not turn out as she hopes as many mothers who gave up children did so with no plan of seeing them again and will probably have their own lives which they may not want interrupted. What Hortense discovers much to her shock is that her mother is a white woman called Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn) who doesn't get on with her family with the exception of her brother Maurice (Timothy Spall) a photographer.

If you read that synopsis and many others which have been written about "Secrets & Lies" you would believe that this is a movie about the curious situation of Hortense discovering that she has a white mother. And there are parts of the movie which is about this seemingly unusual situation but "Secrets & Lies" is much more than that as it is a movie about observing characters and the relationships which in truth makes it a lot more interesting than you might imagine as we get to see the difficult relationship between Cynthia and her other daughter whilst we also see the difficult relationship Maurice has with his wife. But more importantly the relationships end up connecting to the main story.

Marianne Jean-Baptiste in Secrets & Lies (1996)

Now the thing about "Secrets & Lies" is that it isn't a movie which spoon-feeds the audience everything, director Mike Leigh is not in any rush to let us know everything but more interested in showing up people and how they interact. For example when Maurice calls in on Cynthia we learn that Cynthia is a very nervous and unsure woman full of nervous ticks but at the same time from the looks in their eyes we get the gist that there is something there which is unspoken, something from their past which weighs heavy on them. It makes "Secrets & Lies" as much about observing these characters, characters that are recognizable to us.

For this to work "Secrets & Lies" needed exceptional actors who manage to inhabit a scene rather than act it. In a scene where Cynthia cracks up and Maurice cuddles her it never feels like Brenda Blethyn and Timothy Spall are acting but are two people in the moment. It is the same in the scenes which feature Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste as there is a sense of these are real people we are watching rather than actors in an unusual scene. As such whilst there are a string of brilliant performances not one stands out above the other and in many ways without the solid performance of one the other would not be as good.

What this all boils down to is that "Secrets & Lies" isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea because it is slow and relies on you to observe the characters. But it is well worth a watch with a fascinating story and fantastic performances which draw you in to every second.