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Secrets and Lies  

Secrets and Lies, directed by Mike Leigh, is the sort of film which can be painful to view. It certainly is not a very depressing movie, but certainly for a particular sort of person, it can hit too close to home. If you are a person who hides personal things, personal demons, even from the people who you take for granted, the ones who are supposed to be closest to you, then you will understand the actions of these characters. Like them, you will understand that the passages of time do not lessen the problem. That problem only digs into your soul even longer, never giving you relief.

Such problems exist for the characters in this movie. The relationships include a brother (Timothy Spall) and sister (Brenda Blythen), the brother`s wife, and the sister`s daughter. Also in the mix is Hortence, a black optometrist who, after the death of her adoptive parents, is looking for her birth mother. She has waited all this time because only now has adoption laws changed, making it easier for adopted children to search for their parents. It is the surprise of her life, and to us as well, that her mother would be the white lower-class Cynthia. This secret will also be a surprise to Cynthia`s daughter, as even after so many years, she has not told her about this child. And one of the major points in this film is Spall`s wife`s contention that Cynthia should have dealt with this fact a long time ago.

Brenda Blythen`s role is one for acquired tastes - I personally saw her almost as Edith Bunker personified and given two more dimensions. Cynthia is hysterical, irritating, with a high-pitched sigh, yet at the same time you can`t hate or condemn her. She is a figure of pity. When Cynthia tries to compromise for her own secretive nature, she ends up annoying the hell out of her daughter, by asking her the most personal of questions. It is clear that she is well-meaning, yet all it does is drive Roxanne out of the house again. We would probably react similarly if we were in Roxanne`s place, but seeing this from the outside allows us to understand that Cynthia is trying to communicate honestly.

What is more amusing is the mere fact that such a silly woman could actually give birth to someone like Hortence, a sophisticated, professional black woman. It is in fact very funny to see Cynthia try her very best to prove Hortense could not be her daughter. It soon borders on the absurd when Cynthia says that she had no idea that he was black!

Mike Leigh is a director quite like John Cassevettes in that he uses a lot of improvisation, which yields long-winded yet authentic results. In Leigh`s case, he develops the script with his actors, allowing them to create their characters from the inside rather than merely attempting to enliven flat words on a cue script. But Leigh is ultimately less intense and grim than Cassevettes, who usually deals in madness and alcohol. Leigh deals mainly in family life, and for the most part, is not very despairing, at least in comparison.

The film ends on notes of release, as all of the secrets and lies are finally revealed. There is no big Hollywood flourish of grandiose proportions, but only the simple realization that life can go on even after the truth is discovered. The characters may have been given a strong jolt, but once it is through, there is only relief that everyone has finally been honest with each other, and now can get back on with their lives.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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