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Secrets And Lies

By Mike Leigh

Secrets And Lies is, quite simply, a masterpiece. The immensely talented writer and director Mike Leigh now shows that, after the gutsy, vicious, apocalyptic urban satire that was 1993’s Naked, he can be tender as well as tough, and engage with human emotions like hurt, loss and regret with the same insight he has used to deal with angst, alienation and rebellion. Never has the Palme D’Or at Cannes gone to a more deserving picture. Brenda Blethyn also thoroughly merits her Best Actress award. If there was any justice in the world, this film would win a sackful of Oscars.




Briefly, the story concerns Cynthia (Blethyn), a 42 year old woman, working in a cardboard box factory, and drinking and smoking too much, who lives with her 21 year old daughter, Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook), an under-achieving road sweeper. Cynthia has a brother she hardly ever sees, Maurice (Timothy Spall), who is a photographer, and is married to Monica (Phyllis Logan). Then there is Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), an optometrist, whose adoptive parents have died, and who begins to search for her birth mother. To reveal any more would spoil your enjoyment, but the whole builds up to one of the most riveting denouement scenes I’ve ever seen on a cinema screen. The love and pain inherent in all family ties is depicted brilliantly.
While it totters on the edge of the claustrophobia and mawkishness of a 50’s kitchen sink drama, it is redeemed by its humour, and successfully transplants an Osbourne or Sillitoe play to the 90’s, with more irony than they could muster. Like a Raymond Carver short story expanded to two hours 20 minutes of screen time, the film shows everyday triumphs and tragedies, the struggle of so called ‘ordinary’ people to express emotion, and speaks to us of the lives we feel beneath the lives we lead.
Leigh’s use of relatively unknown actors, similar to Pasolini’s, helps to create further intimacy, since we are not required to carry the baggage of what we already know about ‘stars’. Made on a low budget, there are technical gaffs, like a boom microphone appearing at the top of a shot, but this reminded me of the halcyon days of punk, when production values weren’t always high, but there was enough energy and commitment pounding through your speakers to blow them apart.
There are no bad performances here, but Brenda Blethyn is towering as a woman moving from neurosis through catharsis to some kind of enlightenment. In what has already been a bumper year for movies, Secrets And Lies takes up pole position by a country mile. Funny, moving, satisfying, it is impossible to recommend this stunning achievement highly enough. We’ll all be a lot older before a film as good as this one comes along again.

First published in The Big Issues









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