If a film fan had never heard of director Mike Leigh, one might explain him as a British Woody Allen. Not that Leigh's films are whimsical or neurotic; they are tough-love examinations of British life--funny, outlandish and biting. His films share a real immediacy with Allen's work: they feel as if they are happening now. Leigh works with actors--real actors--on ideas and language. There is no script at the start (and sometimes not at the end). Secrets and Lies
involves Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), an elegant black woman wanting to learn her birth mother's identity. She will find it's Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn), who is one of the saddest creatures we've seen in film. She's also one of the most real and, ultimately, one of the most loveable. Timothy Spall is Cynthia's brother, a giant man full of love who is being slowly defeated by his fastidious wife (Phyllis Logan).
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
Mike Leigh's multi award-winning drama, Secrets And Lies, is both hysterically funny and profoundly sad in its portrayal of a wounded British family. Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is a young black optometrist who has just buried her beloved adoptive mother. In her sorrow she embarks on a search for her birth mother, who turns out to be Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn), a white factory worker living a lonely life with her surly daughter Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook). No one in the family--except Cynthia's brother Maurice (Timothy Spall) and his wife Monica (Phyllis Logan)--knows that Cynthia gave up a child for adoption as a teenager, without ever seeing the baby. Hortense contacts Cynthia and after a heart-wrenching reconciliation they become best friends. Maurice and Monica--childless but financially secure--are very fond of Roxanne and host a family barbeque to celebrate her twenty-first birthday. Cynthia convinces Hortense to attend the party and meet the family--as a mate from the factory--but during the celebrations the family's secrets and lies emerge in a very cathartic, emotional moment. Leigh's trademark for developing his characters and storylines from an intense series of improvisations with the actors reaches its summit with Hortense and Cynthia's reunion in a coffee shop, resulting in another deeply moving portrait of a family at a personal crossroads.