Film: Secrets & Lies

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Film:

Secrets & Lies

Director: Mike Leigh
Honors:
Genres:
Distributor: 20th Century Fox

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…

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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 lovable. 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

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