Secrets & Lies Review
Secrets & Lies is a 1996 British drama film directed by Mike Leigh and starring Brenda Blethyn, Timothy Spall and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. It is such a powerful movie that is one of the finest of its year.
It follows a well-educated middle-class black woman who decides to trace her family history only to discover that her mother is a white working-class woman with a dysfunctional family. I loved this story. Yes, it may seem difficult to happen, but it is still such an extremely realistic, wonderfully moving and deep and relevant look at family with fantastic character development. What I loved about it is that, although some scenes are a bit too emotional, most of the movie is restrained and it never goes into overly melodramatic and too emotional territory despite the script evidently calling for that. It is quite the contrary – it is emotional, but not sappy, moving, but not cheesy and it has such a big heart.
The characters are wonderfully realized with each and every one of them being incredibly grounded in reality. Cynthia is so lovable. She is the kind of woman that may seem careless, stupid and even ridiculous at first, but she has such a big heart and genuinely cares for her family. Her endless bursts into tears could have been annoying, but are instead beautifully touching, funny and sweet at the same time due to some great acting and superb characterization at display here. Hortense is also charming with such a good and lovable personality. The relationship between the two is so strong, so inherently beautiful while also being very realistic as it develops at a proper, slower pace. Their relationship is the heart and soul of the movie.
Roxanne is annoying at first, but fine near the end and is the most realistic character here. And Maurice is boring at first, but quite likable later on. And of course Monica is so well realized. I loved that realization that she can’t get pregnant as it led to such a wonderful moment between her and Cynthia and a great development for Maurice who is always between the two women who mean most to him, but they themselves hate each other. That is such a relevant and very truthful development that I loved here as it’s explored perfectly.
The acting is magnificent! It is one of the biggest strengths of Secrets & Lies as absolutely everyone delivers a strong performance. Marianne Jean-Baptiste is wonderful as the calmest person of the bunch, Timothy Spall is really good with his natural performance and Claire Rushbrook is very good as well. But Brenda Blethyn is on the whole new level. She thoroughly amazed me as every scene with her involved was the highlight. Her performance is so real and so fantastic that I forgot I was watching an actress perform. Yes, she is that good and delivered one of the finest actress performances of the nineties without any doubt. The fact the she lost her deserved Oscar to Frances McDormand from ‘Fargo’ is absolutely baffling to me and I was angry the whole running time because of that.
Secrets & Lies has its problems, but there are few. Yes, some of the scenes are too emotional and there should have been less crying involved. Also, the film is weakly edited with some scenes lasting for way too long. I did not mind the incredibly long dialogue sequences when Cynthia’s character is present as that approach is very realistic and this movie is so European in style. But I did mind the overly long scenes that are boring with some of Maurice’s scenes in the first half being pretty boring. And the first act is a bit too slow. But otherwise the film is outstanding.
It is very well filmed and shot with a particularly good direction from Mike Leigh. The dialogue is fantastic and so real. The emotion is evident and the script is so sophisticated and so well put together. The relationship between mother and daughter is the heart of the film and is not only moving, but is also presented in a grounded way. I believed every scene here as it was so realistically portrayed and the film is above all very relatable as anyone can relate to the problems these people face. I love the fact that they are so dysfunctional and problematic, but still care for each other as a family. That was great to witness and so moving. The humor is also surprisingly good with a couple of really funny moments, but the charm is also there as the flick is very sweet at times. I love how some scenes are presented and shot with the diner scene where the two first meet and talk being the highlight as it’s so long and real, but so heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. It is as if I was watching real people interact and that is what every drama should make you feel. That is the reason why Secrets & Lies succeeds as a drama and is undoubtedly one of the best films of the genre from this decade.
Secrets & Lies is an outstanding film! It is at times a bit slow, but I loved the dialogue here with some scenes being so amazing in their long takes and real feel. Everything here is realistic, the problems of the characters are so relatable and the film succeeds as a drama because of those reasons. It is a heartbreaking and heartwarming film at the same time with Brenda Blethyn delivering one of the best female performances of the decade. Such a terrific movie.
My Rating – 4.5