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aka - Secrets And Lies
UK 1996
Directed by
Mike Leigh
142 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Secrets & Lies

Mike Leigh lays the misery on with a spade and it won him the 1996 Palme D'Or and Brenda Blethyn won the Best Actress award for her performance in this story of working class familial angst.  

Blethyn plays Cynthia, a 40-ish London factory worker living in a two-up, two-down with her bolshie 20-year old daughter, Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook) who works as a street cleaner. Her younger  brother, Maurice (Timothy Spall) owns a suburban photography studio and is married to Monica (Phyllis Logan), a childless woman who devotes her time to interior decoration. Meanwhile Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a young black optometrist, who has just buried her adoptive mother, decides to seek out her birth mother, who it turns out, is Cynthia. Leigh slowly builds his story to bring his characters together for a climactic confrontation in which the secrets and lies harboured for years are brought out into the open.

Although her character is already in real life quite two-dimensional, the result of generations of spiritual and emotional disconnectedness, Blethyn captures her in all her ignoreance and pathos.  Much the same can be said of Timothy Spall who did his best work in Leigh’s films but already there is evidence of the facial tics and mannerisms that would turn many of his subsequent screen appearances into caricatures.  Fortunately Marianne Jean-Baptiste has a thoughtfully subdued presence that leavens the claustrophobic torpor of English working and lower middle class norms.

Although some judicious pruning would have helped to lighten a film which tends at time to border on the monotone  and Leigh pushes it a little too far into melodrama  in the final soul-baring showdown there is no doubt that, like it or not, he takes us into the lives of his characters.  




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