Sunday, May 22, 2022

Secrets and Lies

Movie Name:
Secrets and Lies
Year of Release: 1996
Director: Mike Leigh
Starring: Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn , Phyllis Logan, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Claire Rushbrook, Elizabeth Berrington, Michele Austin, Lee Ross, Lesley Manville, Ron Cook, Emma Amos
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on HBO Max

Synopsis and Review:
Director Mike Leigh who started his feature directorial career in the late 80s, hit his stride in the 90s, with the very high profile and well received "Naked", which also showcased the protean talents of David Thewlis to the world. His follow up, "Secrets and Lies", premiered at the Cannes Film Festival of 1996, where it went on to win the Palm D'Or alongside the award for Best Actress (in the year where Francis Ford Coppola was the President of the Jury, and where David Cronenberg showed up with the terrific "Crash"). The film follows the story of two siblings, Maurice and Cynthia Purley. Cynthia lives in her modest home in East London with her soon to be 21 daughter, Roxanne, a street sweeper. Their relationship is somewhat tense. Maurice is a very successful photographer who lives with his wife Monica in the suburbs. Their relationship is also tense due to her inability to have children. Monica and Cynthia do not get along, which also causes Maurice to be somewhat absent in his relationship with his sister. Into this narrative pops Hortense Cumberbatch, a black optometrist, whose mother has recently died. She has known for quite a while she was adopted as a child, and decides to track down her birth mother. She is shocked to realize her mother is white, and she soon discovers Cynthia's name in the documents she has gathered. They schedule a meeting, and while Cynthia is initially incredulous of the whole situation, she soon realizes what has happened, and decides to stay in touch with Hortense. As Roxanne's birthday is looking, she decides to invite Hortense to the party at Maurice's house, and allow for everyone to mix. 
There's much to enjoy in this narrative concocted by Mike Leigh. It's a bit of a slice of life, staged with a layer of authenticity which makes it all the more interesting and touching. However and for all its tenderness and care, in terms of how the situations, characters and dynamics between them all is captured, it still feels very trivial. It's a film that lives by the capability these actors have in bringing these characters to life, and do they so expertly well. All the lead characters, as played by Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Phyllis Logan, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Claire Rushbrook, do feel palpably realistic characters, people who have had their dreams, ambitions, and who have wanted to move past some of their earlier mistakes and still have a chance in life. This very talented group of performers, really makes this film come to life, by making these characters more than just flattened and predictable clichés. While the script may not be the most inventive one, there are many wonderful moments in it, such as when Cynthia realizes that Hortense is indeed her daughter. The production team on this film is also top notch, including Dick Pope's cinematography and the late Jon Gregory's editorial work. It's a solid film from a consistently interesting director.