Secrets & Lies (1996) Poster

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Winning performances
mjn195725 October 2004
This is a lovely, small film with beautiful performances by Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. It is filled with comical moments that balance out some of the heavier parts of the film. My heart went out to the two lead characters as they struggled to make sense of the mutual bond unearthed by Ms. Jean-Baptiste's character. At once confused, hurt, shocked and afraid, Ms. Blethyn is completely convincing in her role. I was moved by her decision to enter into a relationship with this woman whom she had never before met. Perhaps the fact that Ms. Blethyn and Ms. Jean-Baptiste had never been introduced prior to the scene in which their two characters meet added to the realism of that moment. And Ms. Jean-Baptiste's portrayal of a woman who is surprised by her discovery and not a little disappointed was dead-on, as is her dogged determination to get what she came after.

If you are searching for a movie brimming with action, special effects, and/or blockbuster stars you need to pass this over. But if you are in the mood for a film that offers winning performances and an entertaining storyline that grows out of human interaction, this is the one you're looking for! "Secrets & Lies" is a gem of a movie!
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A great layering of memorable characters
Annyerism30 October 1999
It took a second viewing of Mike Leigh's 'Secrets and Lies' to reveal the depth of its genius. I love character-driven drama, and this film succeeds in creating indelible portraits. Even the social worker is quirky and memorable instead of just furthering the plot and being patently sympathetic.

I could write quite a lot about Blethyn's riveting performance. How drained she must have been after sustaining a character who seems always at the height of emotional pressure. Opposite her, Jean-Baptiste seemed as cool and smooth as could be. The contrasts created by these personae even extended to costume and decor.

I decided to watch this movie again because after a BBC Shakespeare binge I wanted to see everything Ron Cook has been in. And while the Stuart scene is really somewhat incongruous to the rest of the family plot, Cook's scene as the bitter, drunk 't****r' works for me perfectly. So do the scenes of photo sessions -- and it's a matter of observing this film in terms of clarity of personal vision. The occupations of photographer and optometrist seem to lend metaphors of spirituality -- for Maurice, the ability to see people as they are, and for Hortense, the ability to understand how others see the world. The wall of smoke that Cynthia and Roxanne seem to keep in front of them. The disparity between the images created for the formal portraits and the truth of the personalities in them. In a distinctly un-sappy way, Leigh has explored the old adage that "the truth will set you free."

If one reads a paragraph describing the main plot -- the adopted child seeking out her birth mother -- a very clear idea of a movie-of-the-week story comes to mind. 'Secrets and Lies' is nothing like that, and shows a mastery of vision and a cast of great talent. My roommate agreed, saying he thought this was one of the best films he's seen this decade.
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10/10
Honesty & Integrity
wainot3 June 2004
This is one of my very favorite movies of the last 10, even 20 years. For me, its greatness lies in the resonance of the story lines, the brilliant acting, (Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Timothy Spall all turned in Oscar-worthy turns, and the rest of the ensemble were all with them), and Mike Leigh's direction.

This is a feast of tremendous acting, by a most talented ensemble who really become their characters. The scenes play out very naturally, and you really feel a part of the story, with special empathy towards - in no particular order - Cynthia, Maurice and Hortense. As the film builds towards a showdown/climax at the birthday party, you can even take a step back and at least sympathize with Roxanne and even, Monica.

This rates 10/10 by this reviewer, who wishes that more directors - if they truly have a good story to tell - will shoot and edit the film in a way that appreciates the audience's intelligence and capacity to feel without being manipulated by a director's avant-garde(??) bag of tricks ...for comparison, perhaps see my scathing review of 21 Grams! What a contrast of styles!!!
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10/10
3-bucket tearjerker of hiding one's pain in plain sight
tom-darwin22 April 2006
With modern films placing so much emphasis on visuals and sound & the stage specializing in avant-garde drama or comedy, it's rare to find old-fashioned storytelling outside of books. But it's rare at any time or in any medium to find a work combining such smartness & sensitivity as "Secrets & Lies." After the deaths of her adoptive parents, urbane young London optometrist Hortense (Jean-Baptiste) searches for her biological origins and locates her mother: alcoholic, neurotic, once-promiscuous factory worker Cynthia (Blethyn, in one of the finest film performances of all time). Each is stunned to find something about the other that neither knew: that the mother is white and the daughter is black! The film has sideplots rather than subplots, two other stories developed in depth, parallel to the main story, although Leigh masterfully uses them to support rather than weaken the central relationship between Cynthia & Hortense. Cynthia's daughter Roxanne (Rushbrook) is coming of age and exploring love, work and independence while struggling between the love, pity, resentment & disgust she holds for her mother. Cynthia's brother Maurice (Spall, a roly-poly, English Jimmy Stewart), a prosperous but overworked studio photographer, gives the family name a facade of middle-class respectability even as he & his wife Monica (Logan) carefully conceal an embarrassment of their own. Through a variety of small, seemingly random but fascinating illustrations like the Canterbury Tales, the film hammers home its theme: that lying & deception become not just easy but casual in an age that emphasizes individualism & responsibility, where you assume that no one, not even the closest of your relatives, wants to hear about your problems. Rather than help one another, each suffers alone, while every lie they so readily spin must constantly be fed with more deception. A story that could have been both preachy & crushingly depressing is cut with just the right amount of humor in all the right places, until the heartbreaking climax that is as powerful as any ever filmed. There isn't an air of judgment or lecturing morality, no attempt to make a sweeping commentary of society. If any such message is delivered it must be derived from the story. In a superb cast Blethyn stands out as the haunted, tormented Cynthia, hurt & angered by the contempt & pity she sees in the eyes of her brother, sister-in-law & daughter as she staves off nervous breakdown with the bottle. Yet she can't bring herself to turn away again from the child she gave up long ago, even though only she knows how much pain lies ahead if she doesn't. Jean-Baptiste provides a stark contrast as the cool-headed but intense young woman who might be repulsed by the coarse, painful world in which Cynthia lives, yet never shows any reluctance to enter it. There's a spareness about the film (so many scenes go without music that you're often surprised to remember that there IS a music score) that engrosses the viewer, making him concentrate, rather than giving an air of cheapness. It's not Shakespeare or Greek theater, since no one gets stabbed or finds out he's married his mother, but Tennessee Williams or Anton Chekhov would have been envious of this effort.
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9/10
Wonderful, character-driven movie- Mike Leigh's genius strikes again!
wisewebwoman2 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I've seen this movie four times now and waited before writing a review, waited to see if my first spell-bound viewing could be matched by the others that would follow. And an overwhelming yes is the answer.

It actually gets deeper with each viewing even with knowing that the cast were given the outline of the characters and told to develop their own dialogue. In fact Brenda Blethyn, who plays Cynthia, the mother, was not even aware that Hortense, played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, was black until she meets her for the first time in a crucial scene.

Timothy Spall, playing Maurice, the brother/uncle is incredible, what he can portray just with his eyes is breathtaking.

I love the layering of the story, the characterizations so unexpected. Such as the child abandoned at birth and put out for adoption being the most centred and focused of everyone. The drunken ex-owner of the business that Maurice bought bringing Maurice to a place of awareness that it could be him wandering around drunkenly, speaking of his past achievements.

The flashes of mini-plots portrayed by the subjects of Maurice's photographic settings. The heart-breaking scene where Maurice's snobby wife reveals her secrets. The slowly developing warmth and comfort between Cynthia and Hortense.And on.

This is a fabulous movie, worth seeing over and over to "get" it all. And even then. The secret of Hortense's father is never revealed, just an "unknown" marked on the birth certificate, which leaves us to ponder on the fact she was probably raped at fifteen. She states she deliberately never saw the baby that was the result.

You can literally feel her growing joy in Hortense and how beautiful a person she is. One scene earlier on has Cynthia telling Hortense how more like her she is than her other (white) daughter. Remarkable. 9 out of 10.

Would that we had a Mike Leigh at this side of the world to bring us such treasures!!
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So Brilliant
mettled27 March 2004
I wish the USA had a director like Mike Leigh. His movies are amazing. "Secrets & Lies" traces the pain we often hold inside along with our secrets and the catharsis that can come by revealing them. Lives of quiet desperation within a family gradually find healing in this movie about adoption, children and the walls we build around ourselves for protection. There is a poignant metaphor in the brother Morris' career as a photographer, as his subjects attempt to cover the stories in their faces long enough to smile for the camera. This is an intense movie but it is not without beauty and hope.
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superb comedy/drama
ginger_sonny31 August 2004
Mike Leigh's superb comedy-drama of family relationships. Heart-rending, bitter and delightful by turn

Leigh's modern classic captured a brace of Oscar nominations but went home empty handed in the face of The English Patient's near clean sweep. Even Blethyn's Cannes-winning performance lost out to Frances McDormand's Fargo turn (hard to challenge this decision, although in any other year the brilliant Blethyn would have deserved to win). The film eventually racked up a considerable number of awards, its Oscar success aside.

The story, every bit as believable and real as the rest of Leigh's work, centres on a woman, Cynthia Purley (Blethyn ), whose mid-life crisis is further exacerbated by the appearance on the scene of the daughter she gave away at birth, the wonderfully named Hortense Cumberbatch (Baptiste) - a young, beautiful, professional black woman who causes a few eyebrows to be raised in the family, and forces Cynthia to come to terms with her past.

Alternating between high comedy, scathing one-liners (Blethyn telling daughter Rushbrook she has a face like a "slapped arse" is a moment to treasure) and tear-jerking poignancy, with Spall, Rushbrook and Baptiste all offering strong support, this is nothing short of superb.



Verdict A genuine hit for Mike Leigh, Secrets And Lies has the coarse grain of real life, sympathetically and affirmingly fashioned.
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10/10
One Excellent Film...But Is There Another Secret?
Gideonssword791 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Here is a question which has dogged me each time I watch this film - and I have seen it over 40 times: Two times during the film, Cynthia Purley (Brenda Blethyn) discusses the circumstances under which her daughter, Hortense Cumberbatch (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) was born - but when Hortense asks who her father is, Cynthia cannot say.

In the restaurant, when Cynthia realizes that she, a white woman, is indeed the mother of this black daughter, she has a moment where she hints at the true circumstances of Hortense's birth. We realize that Hortense's father is black...but is there another secret? After all, at the birthday party for Cynthia's other daughter Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook), Cynthia tells Roxanne that her father's name was Bingham - that he was an American medical student that she met on holiday while she was at Benidorm. So, she can tell people who Roxanne's true father was. But when Hortense asks if her father "was a nice man," Cynthia can't say - or won't.

The question to be asked here, which no one breaches, is: Was Hortense the product of rape? Was the 15 year old Cynthia Purley raped by a black man in 1968 in London? And did she then keep the child, only to give it up for adoption? Why doesn't anyone ask this? Why does Cynthia let Roxanne know who her father is, but not Hortense? Now, was this done on purpose by the director and/or the screenwriter? After all, it would be simple enough to see the name of the child, "Elizabeth Rose Purley," on the birth certificate that Hortense gets a copy of. If it is blank, this would prove that Cynthia did not know who the father was - pointing the way to rape.

But the question is not asked, and the answer not given.

Can we speculate? Can we broach the subject that a black man raped a white girl and yet she did not abort the child and instead gave it life and then gave it away? This is an absolutely fantastic film. From Brenda Blethyn to Marianne Jean-Baptiste (now on CSI:New York without her British accent) to Timothy Spall, this film is filled with Oscar worthy performances. Why this was passed over for the (dull and boring) "The English Patient" is beyond me.

I would recommend this film without doubt. It is one of the finest pieces of film-making and acting I have ever seen.
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Magic
UACW19 August 2002
The way Leigh weaves a story here - no screenplay, just tell the actors what the scenes are supposed to do, give them an outline, but don't give away the punch line or the ending - shows up in the final print. This is cinematic magic, with Blethyn turning in one of the most breathtaking performances ever seen on the silver screen. The transformation into Cynthia Purley is total. Study especially the scene in the cafe in Holborn - story has it these two principals had not met before shooting this scene, and the scene goes on forever, and puts incredible demands on both actors, especially Blethyn, who is simply unreal in her abilities. All do a great job here. This is not a light comedy. It will tear at you, thanks in part to the evocative music, but at the end you will go 'wow' and feel good for having seen it.
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Re. those "awful" accents : shut up and put up !
Laurent Mousson22 April 2002
I'm flabbergasted to read comments from the US complaining about the awful accents in "Secret and lies". Hey, people, you're 'merkans, and this language is supposed to be you mothertongue, it ain't mine, and I can nevertheless cope, so what ?? Has Hollywood's cliché-ed accents eroded your capacity to understand other ones that just happen to be real in the UK ? How d'you think Brits, Aussies and Kiwis cope with 'merkan accents then ? Yet US films are the same problem to them ! Come off it, panning a movie just because one is too lazy to make a little effort in concentration ia a wee tad unfair ! "Secret & Lies" is an excellent movie, great acting, and well, Timothy Spall and Brenda Blethyn are good in there because they sound real, because ther accents may not be that smooth to some ears, but they do add credibility to their characters.

BTW, a good few Brit movies on DVD happen to have english subtitles for the hard of hearing, the feature could be a help into getting used to those weird accents 60 million people across the Pond happen to have...
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7/10
Top 5 Film Class Movies: FILM #5
jmille4225 July 2005
In honor of my film class wrapping up this week, I will be counting down my top five favorite films we have watched for class. I begin with my #5 choice, Secrets and Lies, a Mike Leigh drama/comedy about the secrets and lies (shock) that tear apart a dysfunctional British family. Brenda Blethyn plays Cynthia Purley, the very dramatic and always crying single mother who is one day contacted by the daughter she gave up for adoption…who happens to be black. The look on Blethyn's face is priceless as she flashes back to a one night stand she had as a young lady.

Most would think Leigh's story would revolve around race relations, which is not the case at all (race is never an issue). Instead he revolves his story around the Purley family, a unit so torn apart from over the years that a simple family cook out turns into a soap opera. "Secrets and lies! We're all in pain! Why can't we share our pain? I've spent my entire life trying to make people happy, and the three people I love the most in the world hate each other's guts, and I'm in the middle! I can't take it anymore!" This memorable quote comes from Maurice Purley, brother to Cynthia and talented photographer. Maurice is your classic good guy, the passive patriarch who always tries to hold the family together. (The irony around his character is that he cannot conceive a child with his wife, Monica). You almost feel sorry for the successful Hortense, as if she would be better off not knowing her birth mother at all.

The actors are so talented in this film that Leigh, at times, uses no cuts during a scene. The camera stays in one spot as the actors' play out scenes that can last 10-15 minutes. After you get past the difficult British dialect (you may want to use captions while watching), you will feel as if you are that nosey neighbor who can't help but listen and enjoy the problems this family confronts…and that's no lie.
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10/10
Intense
Boyo-215 January 1999
This is a drama for adults only. The subject matter would never interest a child. It is an extremely well-done movie, and the performances were among the best of the year. Timothy Spall and the rest of the cast are unforgettable. Mike Leigh is some kind of genius.
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Brenda Blethyn deserved the Oscar
mikenpeter4 October 2001
I am watching this film for the 4th time. Each time, I am amazed at Ms. Blethyn's (and all of the actors') performance and the brilliant script and direction. Ms. Blethyn's scene during the first phone call from "Hortense" should have been enough to earn her the Oscar right then and there. Ms. Blethyn continues to show her tremendous talent and range since "Secrets." How Frances McDormand won the Oscar by walking around in the snow and saying "Yah" I will never understand. Has anyone seen anything McDormand's done since then?
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9/10
A wonderful motion picture.
George04121 June 2003
Very well done and a motion picture worth seeing. Perhaps the plot takes a little time to develop, but the end is full of surprises. There is humor, pathos, and the usual jump to conclusions on the part of the characters depicted. Nevertheless, it is a great motion picture.
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10/10
Should have been named ''Best Picture'' !
OldRose8 January 1999
Unlike American films attempting to tackle such a tangle of relationships, the British do so in a manner which spares the viewer not one inch for syrupy happy endings or sterilised overpasses where difficult subjects are concerned. The film at times is relentless, but one can only feel a mounting sense of joy as the story unfolds, and unfolds, and keeps unfolding ! Like ''The Full Monty'', this is a film that HAD to be made in Britain although the basic story-line could certainly have taken on the resemblance of something out of the Northeastern US (for example). Brenda Blethyn (Best Actress nomination) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Best Supporting Actress nomination) should have taken home statues on Oscar night. This was the best picture of 1996, make no mistake about it ! Top rating (5 stars of 5).
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10/10
'One of the families favourite films'
walkerus14 June 2001
'Secrets and lies' is one of the families favourite films. A real-life drama full of interest, lightened with splashes of comedy, and has an almost 'documentary' feel thanks to a great cast.

I can feel for every character in the movie, even the boozy previous owner of the photography studio.

If I had made a movie, I would like it to have been 'Secrets and Lies'.
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6/10
Not what I was expecting
Rumples6 October 1998
After hearing so many very positive comments about this movie I finally succumbed and rented it. I had seen it on the shelves before but avoided it because the theme seemed so bleak. I should have trusted my instincts! Although the movie was well acted and the subject intriguing, the well-crafted aspects did not overcome the labourious pace, disjointed delivery, and sheer unpleasantness of almost all the main female characters. This movie also leaves many questions unanswered and some aspects of the plot hanging; what was the purpose of the return of the man who Maurice had bought the studio from? why was there almost no exploration of the effects of the inter-racial aspect? why did it take over 2 hours to tell what was basically a simple tale? Surrounded by the crushingly depressing scenes of working class British life, this LONG movie takes work to sit through and the glimpses of intelligent film-making are too brief to save it.
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9/10
Leigh does it again.
dead475488 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Once again, Mike Leigh crafts a film that leaves me completely emotionally drained by the time the credits roll. The film is immensely suspenseful, and this suspense doesn't come in the Hitchcockian 'physical danger around every corner' kind of way. We are exposed to the various secrets and lies formed in this dysfunctional family very early on, and the entire film is just a slow buildup until everything explodes and it is out in the open. We are forced to sit and wait for the inevitable collision of all the painfully awkward secrets that this family contains. Behind all of this is a beautifully operatic score that creates the perfect ambiance to the entire work. As with Leigh's earlier work Naked, he creates an ensemble of strong, detailed and incredibly flawed characters. Everyone has so much inner emotional pain, that when they all end up in a room together your heart explodes with the uncomfortable anguish of every secret revealed. It's a series of savage beatings, one right after the other, that rips your emotional core into pieces and leaves them to be stomped on in the dirt. Of course behind all of this is a beautiful moral, and that's where the film really shines. Behind all of the pain and gut-wrenching heartache, there is a wonderful story that perfectly depicts the folly of secrets and lies. We see that being truthful and honest for your entire life is ultimately the best decision, regardless of how hard it may be. Letting all of the emotional pain build up over the course of decades will only lead to an even more painful conclusion. In the end, it's better to simply be honest and trustworthy.
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10/10
As clear and intelligent a view of family life as there is on film
groening-217 January 2007
Trying to make sense of family dynamics -- in all their raging dysfunction -- has been the theme of too many films to count. Few have done it as well as "Secrets & Lies." The story centers on an adult woman, adopted at birth, who is seeking her biological mother. Yet this is not what the film is about. The woman is black, the mother, white. Yet even this twist is not really what the film is about.

Without getting mired in Dr. Phil-style pop psychology, "Secrets & Lies" unravels the very simple and basic -- yet powerful -- emotional forces that taint and enliven our relationships with family. It's all here, but presented in a restrained, realistic manner: jealousy, resentment, failed expectations, identity and rebelling against one's inherited identity, hope for reconciliation, and -- finally -- love.

And though director Mike Leigh's touch and vision seems right on the money, much of the power of the film is owed to the stellar performances, particularly Brenda Blethyn's.

To borrow the title of another film, "Secrets & Lies" is "as good as it gets."
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Commenting on a comment
lucy-6614 December 2001
Another IMDB member wrote: [snip] In this film Brenda Blethen concocts an accent that is so

incomprehensible that I couldn't watch the film straight but had to break it up into many viewings. I saw My Left Foot so I know this is made up because she

had a different accent there. It seems every year Mike Leigh puts out an award winning film and I dread them because they're made up of the most low class

charachters and awful sounding voices. [snip]

My Left Foot was set in Ireland. Was Brenda Blethyn in it, or was that Brenda Fricker, who is Irish? The characters in Secrets and Lies are Londoners and

that's how they speak. xxxxxxxxxxxx
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Quietly powerful
SKG-214 September 1999
I've only seen a few Mike Leigh films. FOUR DAYS IN JULY(I think that was the title) was a film I would have liked except back when I saw it, I wasn't able to handle thick accents, so I couldn't understand it. LIFE IS SWEET and CAREER GIRLS are slight but highly enjoyable. NAKED features a terrific performance by David Thewlis but has a surprisingly misogynist streak in it. But the best of all of them is SECRETS AND LIES. Like his other films, it's entirely improvised by the actors from an outline Leigh writes, but unlike some of those types of movies, you're never left saying, "Okay, cut already!" You're too engrossed by the story, the emotions it brings up, and the performances. Particularly those of Blethyn, Jean-Baptiste(especially her first scene in the adoption agency), and Spall. I could identify with all of them, and was caught up in what happened to them. And although there's no neat resolution, there is some hope at the end. A great movie.
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9/10
Getting better every time
Dadge18 January 2004
Each time I see this film I like it more. It's never been my favourite Mike Leigh film, but it's growing on me. There are two things I've tended to find ridiculous about it: first, the premise that Cynthia and Hortense are related; second, Brenda Blethyn's acting. But methinks I've been too harsh - the scenario is not so unlikely, and Blethyn does a pretty good job. Acting honours still go to Tim Spall, who's brilliant in this just like he was in "Life is Sweet".

Now I'm looking forward to the next time it's on the telly...
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9/10
Top Notch Stuff
ian_harris31 March 2003
This is one of Mike Leigh's finest works. I am very keen on Leigh's work, but it does sometimes stretch credibility and sometimes stretches one's attention span. This film is captivating throughout and strangely credible. It is also very amusing in parts - an element of Mike Leigh's talent that is sometimes absent, sometimes ignored.

The acting really is of the best, with Spall, Jean-Baptiste, Logan and Blethyn all putting in classy lead performances. Super cameos too from Ron Cook and Lesley Manville. Even Alison Stedman and some others put in tiny guest appearances for fun.

The film gives terrific insight into 1990's London, from somewhat gauche middle class suburbs to the down-at-heel working class inner-London boroughs.

A great place to start if you want to get in to Mike Leigh's genre of British film.
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10/10
Europe against Hollywood
moondog-425 November 1998
Secrets & Lies is one of the most intelligent and emotional movies made in the 90's. Leigh gives a clear impression of family life without being as dark as he was in 'Naked', this time he makes it lighter and funnier. But this picture's strength is the lead actress Brenda Blethyn. She plays the role of a mother as if she is just being filmed in her daily life rather then acting. The movie proves that European cinema is not dead at all, Hollywood can learn a lot from Leigh & Co.
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10/10
One of my 10 favourite movies of all time
grybop28 January 2002
I'd first seen Secrets & Lies back in 1996 and I was completely blown away by the complexity of the story, the simplicity with which it was approached, the in depth analysis of each of the characters' inner world, the excellent performances by each one of the actors, the direction, cinematography, all.... Brenda Blethyn is stunning and should have won the Oscar but great acting is recognized no matter how many awards it earns.

The story is original and is not confined to the meeting of an adopted woman and her real mother; it's much more than that. It's about human relationships and how they age in time. Although it was not easy to identify myself with any of the characters, I couldn't help but sympathize with them all the way till the climax. And that's one of the reasons why this movie is a definite winner. A masterpiece.

10
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