With both her adoptive parents now dead, a black optometrist decides to make contact with her birth mother, but is shocked to find out that she is white.
- Cynthia Rose Purley: Brenda Blethyn
- Hortense Cumberbatch: Marianne Jean-Baptiste
- Maurice Purley: Timothy Spall
- Monica Purley: Phyllis Logan
- Roxanne Purley: Claire Rushbrook
- Paul: Lee Ross
- The Social Worker: Lesley Manville
- Jane: Elizabeth Berrington
- Dionne: Michele Austin
- Stuart: Ron Cook
- Hortense’s Brother: Trevor Laird
- Hortense’s Brother: Brian Bovell
- Girl with scar: Emma Amos
- Hortense’s Sister in Law: Clare Perkins
- Hortense’s Nephew: Elias Perkins McCook
- Senior Optician (as June Mitchell): Jane Mitchell
- Junior Optician: Janice Acquah
- Girl in Opticians (as Keeley Flanders): Keylee Jade Flanders
- First Bride: Hannah Davis
- First Bride’s Father: Terence Harvey
- Second Bride: Kate O’Malley
- Groom: Joe Tucker
- Vicar: Richard Syms
- Best Man: Grant Masters
- Mother in family group: Annie Hayes
- Grandmother: Jean Ainslie
- Nurse: Lucy Sheen
- Young mother: Frances Ruffelle
- Potential Suitor: Nitin Ganatra
- Conjuror: Metin Marlow
- Raunchy woman: Su Eliott
- Raunchy woman: Amanda Crossley
- Raunchy woman: Di Sherlock
- Men in suits: David Neilson
- Men in suits: Peter Waddington
- Men in suits: Peter Stockbridge
- Graduate: Rachel Lewis
- Grinning Husband: Paul Trussell
- Fiance: Jonny Coyne
- Uneasy woman: Denise Orita
- Elderly Lady: Margery Withers
- Laughing man: Gordon Winter
- Daughter: Theresa Watson
- Father in family group: Peter Wight
- Boxer: Gary McDonald
- Woman with dog: Alison Steadman
- Woman with cat: Liz Smith
- Fertile Mother: Sheila Kelley
- Little Boy’s Mother: Angela Curran
- Pin Up Housewife: Linda Beckett
- Man in suit: Phil Davis
- Glum woman: Wendy Nottingham
- Uneasy Man: Anthony O’Donnell
- Laughing Woman: Ruth Sheen
- Fiancee: Mia Soteriou
- Men in Suits: Stephen Churchett
- Editor: Jon Gregory
- Producer: Simon Channing Williams
- Director of Photography: Dick Pope
- Writer: Mike Leigh
- Original Music Composer: Andrew Dickson
- Production Design: Alison Chitty
- Sound Recordist: George Richards
- Costume Design: Maria Price
- CRCulver: 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.
- Peter McGinn: If I ever get around to drawing up a list of my top 25 favorite non-blockbuster movies, Secrets and Lies would roll in very near the top. I have watched it a few times and expect I will continue to do so periodically.
The acting is phenomenal. It is an ensemble cast, for sure, no superstars, but three of the main actors: Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn and Claire Rushbrook, are among the best that Great Britain has produced. What I first saw this film, it was literally the first time I had seen those three perform, and I quickly learned to seek them out in other projects. I believe the movie won the top award at the Cannes festival, and Brenda Blethyn won a deserved Academy Oscar award.
The story is a powerful one, and allows for emotional growth in a few of the characters. A few Mike Leigh movies share more than just his favorite repeat performers: they also include a big emotional reveal at the end that really pack a wallop. This movie, Mr. Harvey Lights a Candle, and All or Nothing share that element. I have read that Leigh makes his cast aware of the story but allows them leeway in improvised dialogue, sometimes when he surprises them during filming, but I haven’t studied his technique in any detail.
I could go on and on about this favorite movie of mine, but I wouldn’t want to risk diminishing the impact for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet. Just watch and enjoy.