Film: Secrets and Lies 15 rating Year: 1996
Secrets and Lies DVD Cover
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Country: UK Genre: Drama
Director: Mike Leigh
Starring: Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Lesley Manville, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Phyllis Logan

Also see our Guide to Mike Leigh, or visit our Mike Leigh UK or Mike Leigh US stores, or our reviews of other Mike Leigh films Bleak Moments, Career Girls, High Hopes, Life Is Sweet and Naked.

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Secrets and Lies Synopsis - Secrets and Lies is set in London and centres around Cynthia. Cynthia lives alone with her somewhat sullen daughter Roxanne. Cynthia's brother Maurice runs a photographers studio which has been successful enough to enable him and his wife Monica to move into a lovely big house. Cynthia and Maurice have drifted apart but as Roxanne's birthday is imminent Maurice is keen to get the extended family together and plans are made for a family barbecue at the new house. Meanwhile Hortense, a professional lady of mixed race who was adopted at birth, is trying to trace her birth mother - which turns out to be Cynthia. Cynthia never told her family about the child, and she seems to have managed to blot it out of her memory almost completely. So when she is contacted to arrange and a meeting subsequently meets with Hortense she finds it very difficult to accept, but how will the extended family cope with the news that they have another relative that they did not know about for so many years.

Review of Secrets and Lies - Secrets and Lies is a truly inconsistent film that veers from excellent to ordinary throughout. Lets deal with the excellent first. The basis of the story is very strong and in general rolls along gathering momentum very well indeed. There are some superb performances here - Timothy Spall, Marian Jean-Baptiste and Phylis Logan all give stunning performances, but the most stunning performance comes from Lesley Manville. Her portrayal of the social worker helping Hortense tracing her birth mother is all to brief but is in my opinion one of the finest performances anywhere in cinema in recent years.

Now lets deal with the ordinary. Brenda Blethyn is a superb actress but I feel like her performance here is misjudged and slightly over the top by going against a big part of the rest of the movie - I may well be alone in my judgment as her performance not only garnered an Oscar nomination but she actually won at Cannes and also secured the Bafta. The inconsistency is no doubt a result of Mike Leigh's unique film making process(where the film gets written during and as a direct result of the rehearsal process). There are a couple of other performances here which also seem out of step with the rest of the movie. The biggest flaw in the movie is the embarrassingly ill conceived scenes in the photography studio where we see various people posing for the camera - these scenes are absolutely cringeworthy and one wonders why they are included. Even if the scenes had worked they would have added absolutely nothing to the story.

The poor elements of this film do not ruin this film, however they have dragged a potentially excellent film down to the status of being just very good.

The reasons I recommend Secrets and Lies are: 1. An amazing performance by Lesley Manville. 2. Superb supporting performances by Timothy Spall, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Phyllis Logan 3. A very good basic story.