Secrets & Lies

October 25th, 1996


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Successful black woman traces her birth mother to a lower-class white woman, who denies it; emotions run high as everyone's secrets are exposed.

Release Year: 1996

Rating: 8.0/10 (17,195 voted)

Critic's Score: 91/100

Director: Mike Leigh

Stars: Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Phyllis Logan

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.

Timothy Spall - Maurice Purley
Phyllis Logan - Monica Purley
Brenda Blethyn - Cynthia Rose Purley
Claire Rushbrook - Roxanne Purley
Marianne Jean-Baptiste - Hortense Cumberbatch
Elizabeth Berrington - Jane
Michele Austin - Dionne
Lee Ross - Paul
Lesley Manville - Social Worker
Ron Cook - Stuart
Emma Amos - Girl with Scar
Brian Bovell - Hortense's Brother
Trevor Laird - Hortense's Brother
Claire Perkins - Hortense's Sister-in-Law (as Clare Perkins)
Elias Perkins McCook - Hortense's Nephew

Taglines: Roxanne drives her mother crazy. Maurice never speaks to his niece. Cynthia has a shock for her family. Monica can't talk to her husband. Hortense has never met her mother.

Release Date: 25 October 1996

Filming Locations: Holborn Underground Station, Holborn, London, England, UK

Box Office Details

Budget: $4,500,000(estimated)

Opening Weekend: $60,813 (USA) (29 September 1996) (4 Screens)

Gross: $13,417,292 (USA) (18 May 1997)

Technical Specs

Runtime:  | USA:

Did You Know?

The restaurant where Cynthia and Hortense meet for lunch is "Pasta Plus Restaurant", a family-run Italian restaurant on 62 Eversholt Street, Camden, London. The restaurant is still open to the public (Monday to Saturday) and is very close to Euston station.

Crew or equipment visible: When Roxanne pushes Cynthia onto the bed, the shadow of a crew member's head is seen moving on the bed.

[last lines]
Cynthia Purley: This is the life, innit sweethearts?

User Review

A great layering of memorable characters


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.