Courtesy Photo
Directed by Mike Leigh

Starring Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Timothy Spall and Claire Rushbrook.

This film is on the Best of 1996 list.

"Secrets & Lies"

Opened: October 11, 1996 | Rated: R

People who rave about English director Mike Leigh can drag the uninitiated to "Secrets and Lies" and their guests will get it. They may not understand why this simply made little film is so captivating -- the brilliant subtlety is elusive -- but it would be hard to leave this picture unaffected.

About an adopted black woman named Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) finding her white birth mother and discovering she was a secret from the family, the purity of emotion, which is Leigh's modus operandi, is remarkable.

The mother (Brenda Blethyn) is a pathetic soul who rarely leaves her squalid lower-class flat because everything she sees outside reminds her of her place in the world. Her other daughter (Claire Rushbrook) is an angry, angst-ridden 20-year-old with a permanently furrowed brow. Her younger brother (Timothy Spall) is a successful photographer, which makes her feel that much smaller.

But when Hortense arrives in her life, she puts all her hopes for redemption into making a relationship with her long lost daughter.

Leigh worked without a script, having the actors ad lib much of the dialogue and the genuine family dynamic that results is potent. No one in "Secrets and Lies" is terribly happy, in fact when you get right down to it, this is a film about pathetic, sorrowful people facing their emotions.

The guilt, the love, the rivalry and jealousy have the same sentiments that make you sweat at family gatherings when old adversities rear their ugly heads.

Leigh paints a full picture that seems to include every trivial strain between mother and daughter, husband and wife, and how the family's static balance is rocked with the arrival or Hortense.

I have a hard time describing such a film without wanting to go scene by scene, but let me be simple and clear: "Secrets and Lies" is nothing less than remarkable. It may very well be the best picture of the year.

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