Time and tide wait for no man. The elemental forces at work in our world are pulsing and throbbing toward an unknown eventual goal. The moral is, do what you can, when you can. Mike Leighs SECRETS AND LIES is still his best film and Criterion have not waited for us to request its presence. They have given us access to some of his other work. Films like TOPSY TURVY for instance, have been given the royal treatment by our favourite label and come to the fore as a lost delight. A back of the shelf delight that we all forgot but now have on the rotation. This said, it seems that the 90s story of adoption, race, familial ties and repression is as timely now as ever.

Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is a young black woman, whose adopted mother has just died and now questions are present. She is a successful eye doctor but wants to seek out her birth mother. To know who she is and where she came from. What she finds is a lower-class white woman called Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn). Cynthia is going through a wide range of emotional malaise. At first Cynthia denies Hortense, but eventually has to admit to being her mother. The two begin to bond over their separate life’s but linked memory of origin. However, when Cynthia invites Hortense to a family barbecue, Cynthia’s already tense relationship with her family becomes even more complicated as the reality of time, love, loss, romance and truth open up all the secrets.

I saw this now 25 years ago. Then it was an emotionally complex and shattering but irritatingly weeping film.  Now as I have grown, it is another of the British Kitchen sink films that explores our country and its national consciousness. From social standings in the 30s, national identity in the 40s, post war immigration in the 50s and sex in the 60s. By the 90s, all of these were still fractured and important topics. Some new topics had surfaced. From race, gender and affluence. SECRETS AND LIES is a film of broad topics and specific themes. A study of the British human of the 90s. The real testament of the film is in its performances. Blethyn is key. She rolls like a river of emotions from the first scene to its last. Suppressing pain and secrets. Bottling them up and simmering with a quiet rage and agony. Steering the course of tears and tragedy without ever breaking stride. Matching her in a more subjugated way is Marianne Jean-Baptiste. A woman who was lost and found. Hammered with a new family, new life, lost identity found. Her more composed performance is richer, deeper and a study in the craft of acting.


The 2K restoration has done a few good things. Two are worth noting. Mainly, it has revealed that the colour palette of greens, blues and mints that both explore middle class aesthetics and the growth in home as asset. North London is a strange place in this world. A world that actually becomes human as it is away from the glass and metal of the city or the stone of the old world. Leigh’s frame is interesting also. It becomes balanced unlike the VHS and even the DVD frame allowed it to be.


The disc is a little light. The essay is not brilliant. The 3 top things on the disc are literally everything else. Top is New interview with actor Marianne Jean-Baptiste. I like her as an actor and a person. She talks to Corinne Antrobus (an up and coming film writer) and thankfully leads the way. Audio interview with Leigh from 1996 conducted by film critic Michel Ciment is equally good but feels like it was restrained. New conversation with Leigh and composer Gary Yershon might not grow on us but it never loses sight of the end product.

Special Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, supervised by director Mike Leigh and director of photography Dick Pope, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
  • New conversation with Leigh and composer Gary Yershon
  • New interview with actor Marianne Jean-Baptiste
  • Audio interview with Leigh from 1996 conducted by film critic Michel Ciment
  • Trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

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