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Old 02-13-2009, 07:20 PM
Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies

Secrets & Lies (1996)

After the highly disappointing "Happy-Go-Lucky," I had to go back to Mike Leigh's earlier work to remember what made him a great writer/director. He had proven it with his story of Gilbert and Sullivan in "Topsy-Turvy," but his most famous film is arguably "Secrets & Lies," which won the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1996.

This is the story of one family and the difficult issues that they have to face. Cynthia Rose Purley (Brenda Blethyn) and her brother, Maurice (Timothy Spall), have just started talking again after two years. Cynthia is lonely most of the time as her daughter, Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook), and her don't have much of a relationship. After her adoptive mother dies, Hortense Cumberbatch (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) decides to seek out her birth mother, who just happens to be Cynthia. Everyone comes together to celebrate Roxanne's 21st birthday, but the surprise is bigger than she could have imagined as this family's secrets and lies are uncovered.

I am happy to say that, with this film, we can easily be reminded of Leigh's talent. He has crafted a film that brings up some very deep, emotional issues, while giving us characters that are very memorable as they attempt to deal with those issues. The dialogue of Leigh's screenplay is not particularly fancy, but very real. Nothing about these characters felt like it was invented or made up because they themselves are very real. This film acts as a window into the lives of this family and gives us the opportunity to share in their emotional turmoil.

While the screenplay is excellent, there is one thing that Leigh does with the direction at some points during the film that just feels kind of odd. He has this habit of allowing scenes to linger. Sometimes it really works for a scene, like when Cynthia and Hortense meet for the first time. The scene is allowed to go on because this is a huge moment for the two characters and they must be allowed time to let it sink in. The audience too needs this time to adjust to seeing the two characters together, as we finally see mother and daughter reunited.

Then there are other scenes where the lingering just doesn't feel necessary at all. This happened particularly during conversations that weren't particularly important to the story, like the barbecue near the end of the film, where everyone is sitting around the table, eating and making small talk. It has a small effect on the pacing, making it feel longer than it should, but it doesn't hurt the overall effect of the film. However, there was one scene that felt like it completely threw off the pacing. The film is entirely about how this family is dealing with their problems, but then suddenly, there is a strange little scene where Maurice is confronted by the man he bought his photography business from. It felt like it didn't fit into the film at all and could have easily been cut as an example of another scene that lingers on.

Much of the credit for this film must go to the actors, particularly Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and Timothy Spall. They poured incredible amounts of emotion into their performances. Aside from winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes, it also received Best Actress for Brenda Blethyn. It is incredible to watch her as Cynthia as she struggles between wanting to tell everyone about Hortense and wanting to hide her away. Both she and Marianne Jean-Baptiste were also nominated for Oscars.

Timothy Spall is one of those little-known actors who does amazing work whenever he's on screen. The same year this film was out, he was also in Kenneth Branagh's brilliant adaptation of "Hamlet" as Rosencrantz. Just three years later, he would work with Leigh again in "Topsy-Turvy." In "Secrets & Lies," his character is rather passive throughout most of the film, taking everything as it happens, trying to find some comfort in his work as a photographer. His emotional moment doesn't come until the end of the film where we are shocked to hear him finally speak his mind.

The ending was overall satisfying, but the party scene felt like it ended a bit abruptly, making it feel like there was more to be said (or maybe I just wanted to hear more). This scene is the emotional high point of the film where all the secrets are told and the lies are put to rest. At one point in this scene, Maurice tells everyone "Secret and lies! We're all in pain. Why can't we share our pain?" That is exactly what Mike Leigh has done with this film. 3.5/4 stars.

Last edited by Hal2001; 02-13-2009 at 08:11 PM..
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