Secrets & Lies (1996)

The downtrodden life of a working-class, middle-aged single mother is transformed by the unexpected arrival of a figure from her distant past.

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“Beautifully constructed sentimental melodrama, with none of the rough edges that Mike Leigh has insisted on in the past”
Adam Mars-Jones, The Independent, 1996

Mike Leigh broke from his domestic comedy-drama format with the despairing and picaresque Naked (1993), and retained that film’s scope in his return to the subject of family in his next film, Secrets and Lies.

The screenplay deftly weaves together the fortunes of Cynthia (Blethyn), her brother Maurice (Timothy Spall) and optometrist Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste). Dick Pope’s cinematography is similarly elegant, particularly during the climactic barbecue scene in which an entire basket of dirty laundry receives an airing. Secrets and Lies won Leigh the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1996, and earned five Oscar nominations.

Timothy Spall has been one of Mike Leigh’s most regular actors since the 1982 Play for Today, Home Sweet Home. See also Life Is Sweet (1990), Topsy-Turvy (1999) and All or Nothing (2002).

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