Secrets & Lies (1996) – Hide the Pain


Mike Leigh’s “Secrets & Lies” explores lies, past wounds, and rebuilds relationships. It’s a great movie not only known as one of the most memorable lines from Timothy Spall’s Maurice. But, it’s because of the emotional and beautiful performance by Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. It was astonishing to know all of these actors never met each other, including actors other than both of them. Brenda, as Cynthia, never knew that Jean-Baptiste, as Hortense, was a black woman. And it’s so natural when you look more closely at their first meeting through a set.

There is so much attention that you can experience a rollercoaster from one of the popular Mike Leigh films. It’s about an unexpected situation confronting the people in it. They don’t know how all of it started, responded to it, or even concluded with. Leigh tried to contact each actor for his reflection. He isn’t telling them enough information about the actors other than their respective characters. And the results were very surprising. When long unbroken takes occur, one scene is natural. It feels like you just watched people live together and become part of the family. They are a family that can only hide lies and secrets.

Changing a character to be natural without having to act on each other’s knowledge and hiding each other’s guise is difficult. Sometimes, you don’t need to say it clearly without having to say whether this is correct or not. If only this weren’t Brenda Blethyn, one of the most central characters in this movie, I don’t need to consider why this movie is so memorable and favorable by many people. Brenda’s Cynthia is a middle-class worker who works in a factory. She strives to build up and be more open with her despair 20-years-old daughter, Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook). However, Cynthia never knew if a shocking event had to make her so as not to close each other and hide a secret again in her family.

After getting a phone call from Hortense, Cynthia recalled an incident where she was pregnant at the age of 16 and gave the baby to someone else to adopt. After such an incident, she never saw the baby again. Hortense is a black woman, as I said early, who works as an optometrist. The first scene opens with a funeral, signifying a new, bitter, and reality for Hortense. Her mother had just died and after discovering that her birth mother was still alive, she took the next step by finding her. It is this bitter reality, meeting because of drama and conflict, makes Cynthia feel insecure, feels threatened, and pressured by all of the circumstances.

Cynthia breaks into the call but still doesn’t want to accept the fact if she has found a lie that she has created in the past. She has a brother, Maurice, who also struggles with the past to his wife, Phyllis Logan’s Monica. However, by taking steps little by little, she began to open up by getting to know her closer. Eventually, they become close friends regardless of time will always tell everything.

Because they often hang out, Cynthia and Hortense always go to a cafe and order a cup of tea. To be able to tell and reopen the wounds, she just wanted, just once, to be able to reveal everything until the end of the movie. And then, she always cried because she was a sensitive person. We relate to her so much despite you knowing all the choices and reasons she had taken so far in the first place.

Probably, for a drama film, “Secrets & Lies” has a lot of real-time performance on screen. It’s creating a natural relationship and conversation between characters in a real way like you see a real-life in another person. And this is added so much suspense because each actor gives a first impression when they meet for the first time. You sense to it. The intercut scene with Spall’s quote about secrets and lies creates a feeling of discomfort, sadness, emotion, anger, and others into one of the most fascinating scenes. For a drama film, this is one of the great examples of how the drama always provides a simple premise but the audience is always curious about all of the complexity between character connections.

Family picnic scenes, a cut between characters talking to each other from behind, and the relationship of these characters with their problems being connected and getting a pay-off; this movie is just so brutal in a good way. All of the tension created is thrilling regardless this isn’t a thriller movie. I also think if this movie tells a story about prejudice, not about racism. All the characters hide a secret and talk about each other from behind. But, it’s not. The shock, the tension, from inside the room, in a public area, in a cafe, and a house; it creates a jarring thread between one and another family. It’s secrets and lies, about being a good person, revealing a fact, hiding a lie, and exposing a secret. Simply, it’s a family drama.

Sure, you don’t want to watch a family drama when you often see this in reality. But, this movie brings its kind of fascination that Mike Leigh has modified and directed. For a cinema, it takes deeply to explore how all the characters in this film act. Sometimes you laugh and sometimes you cry. It’s a tear-jerking one. “Secrets & Lies” is a gem of a drama movie.