Learn more about this title's writer and director in as we put Mike Leigh In the Director's Chair...
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
The most remarkable aspect of the film is the acting, as one would expect with Leigh. Although it was Brenda Blethyn to whom one's eye is attracted and to whom all praise was aimed, she is just one of a cast full of superb characterisations. Her trembling, knife-edge performance is indeed touching and memorable, but equal praise must be heaped on Marianne Jean-Baptiste for her beautifully measured Hortense. In many ways, hers is the hardest part to play as she gets no big shouting scenes and cries much less than everyone else, but her initial
awkwardness with her new family is wonderfully moving. Timothy Spall as a wedding photographer also stands out in another of his understated put-upon male roles. But it would be impossible to pick out a best performance as you never once doubt the reality of the people you are seeing on screen.
Leigh uses enigma brilliantly from the start ('who's died?', for instance, in the very first shot!) and emphasises throughout the theme of looking and seeing (Hortense as an optometrist; Spall as a photographer). Although I still don't quite see why it's been described as Leigh's hilarious bittersweet comedy - I found it tenser than most Hollywood actioners and was compelled by the drama of it throughout - I would strongly recommend it to any serious connoisseur of film, student of sociology or anyone looking for a different kind of story told very well indeed.
Leigh reveals to us how secrets and lies can cause upset, pain,
and regret in what has to be one of the best British films of the 90's. With spot-on dialogue and glorious performances it is hard to find fault with Leighs master work. The stand out for me is brenda Blethyn as working-class poor Cynthia. Just when we thought Cynthia would live out the rest of her days as a worker in a banal factory, with her confrontational daughter Roxanne, she is thrown a life line in the form of Hortense, and we see their relationship flourish. Timothy Spall is also on top form as the glue that holds the family together.
The film is a harsh but realistic portrayal of the British family although the ending is fairly predictable and the film seems long on repeat viewings, you can't help but feel uplifted by the sentimental outcome.
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