Secrets & Lies (1996) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A successful black woman discovers that her birth mother is an underprivileged white woman, but the woman denies it. As emotions run high, everyone's secrets are exposed.

  • Cynthia lives in London with her sullen street-sweeper daughter. Her brother has been successful with his photographer's business and now lives nearby in a more upmarket house. But Cynthia hasn't even been invited round there after a year. So, all round, she feels rather lonely and isolated. Meanwhile, in another part of town, Hortense, adopted at birth but now grown up, starts to try and trace her mother.

  • Following the passing of her adoptive mother, London based optometrist Hortense Cumberbatch believes it is a good time to find out the identity of her birth mother, something that is now the right of adopted adult children in Britain which was not the case when she was given up for adoption in 1968. Her biological mother's name is Cynthia Purley, the most shocking news among the adoption papers for Hortense being that Cynthia is white, while Hortense is black. Despite the questions Hortense has for Cynthia, she isn't sure what to do with any of the information. If Hortense does proceed with contacting Cynthia, she will find that she is walking into a firestorm of dysfunction that exists between members of the Purley family. Cynthia, an uneducated factory worker who on first thought wouldn't even remember sleeping with a black man, has only two blood relatives: her younger brother Maurice Purley, who owns a successful photography business, and her daughter Roxanne Purley, who works for the council as a street cleaner. Roxanne, on the cusp of her twenty-first birthday, is an angry and unambitious young woman, most of that anger directed at her mother. She treats Maurice like the father she never had - her biological father's identity which Cynthia has never told her - and thus Maurice's wife, Monica Purley, like the mother she wished she had. Maurice and Monica can treat Roxanne like a daughter especially since they have no children of their own. Controlling Monica has made Maurice cut day-to-day ties with Cynthia due to Monica seeing Cynthia as flighty and irresponsible, that view in part because of Cynthia getting pregnant when she was fifteen with who ended up being Hortense. No one has ever told Roxanne that she is Cynthia's second child. That severing of ties means that Maurice and Monica have not invited either Cynthia or Roxanne to the new house they've owned for a year, redecorating it to her exacting standards being Monica's focus in life. The question then becomes what will happen between Hortense and Cynthia not if but when Hortense contacts her which she has decided to do, and how that will affect the interpersonal relationships between all the family members now including Hortense.



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