Mike Leigh is one of the most well-known British film directors of all time, with 7 Oscar nominations and countless BAFTA nominations to his name. He was even awarded an OBE in 1993 for his services to the film industry and now, his 1996 film Secrets & Lies is joining The Criterion Collection.
Secrets & Lies sees Hortense, played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, a black optometrist who was adopted as a baby and is now deciding to find her true parents after both of her adoptive parents died recently. However, she discovers that her birth mother Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn) is white. And the film follows these two as they first meet, and we see how their relationship develops but it also follows Cynthia’s dysfunctional family including her other daughter Roxanne as well as her brother played by Timothy Spall. It’s an incredibly powerful film that has you gripped by the amazing realism of every single scene.
One reason why Secrets & Lies is such an excellent film is because of the incredible screenplay. Leigh’s script is so delicate and human. It’s so packed full of emotion and rich in the way that it explores the human being that when the film reaches its conclusion it really is at the height of the tension and the drama. As great as Leigh’s script, the film is elevated that bit more by the cast and their remarkable performances.
The entire cast is on top form here giving career-best performances and bringing so much power and emotion to the film. Scene after scene we get to see incredible things from the entire cast as all the various secrets and lies within the family unfold and we’re helpless as we just sit there and watch. As an audience, it feels like we’re eavesdropping and looking in on these ordinary people’s lives and that’s a testament to Leigh’s remarkable filmmaking as the film really moves you by giving us a glimpse into other people’s lives.
Leigh is probably best known for letting the actors improvise a lot during filming, and Secrets & Lies is a great example of this. Most of the film’s script was entirely improvised and to elicit better performances from the cast, Leigh only told the actors what their character would know. For instance, Brenda Blethyn didn’t know that Marianne Jean-Baptiste was black so when her character discovers this in the film, the performance really is genuine. As the title suggests, there are indeed lots of secrets and lies being told in this film and because the actors themselves didn’t know what was going to happen until it was revealed to them whilst the cameras were rolling the performances were all so good and real.
In terms of the new Criterion Collection release there’s lots of good stuff to make it a worthy addition to the collection including a new 2K digital restoration approved by both Mike Leigh and cinematographer Dick Pope. There is also an interview with Leigh from 1996 with film critic Michel Ciment but in terms of new special features there are interviews and conversations with Leigh and Marianne Jean-Baptiste recorded in 2020 so there are plenty of good extras to get your teeth into in this Criterion Collection release of Secrets & Lies as you’d expect.
Dir: Mike Leigh
Prd: Simon Channing Williams
Scr: Mike Leigh
Cast: Timothy Spall, Phyllis Logan, Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
DoP: Dick Pope
Run time: 142 mins
The Criterion Collection edition of Secrets & Lies is available from April 26.