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Secrets and Lies
Secrets and Lies
Actors: Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Phyllis Logan, Claire Rushbrook, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Director: Mike Leigh
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama
R     2005     2hr 16min

After her adoptive parents die, a young black woman seeks out her natural birth mother, only to discover her mother is white, thus setting in motion the revelation of a whole series of secrets and lies.


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Movie Details

Actors: Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Phyllis Logan, Claire Rushbrook, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Director: Mike Leigh
Creators: Dick Pope, Mike Leigh, Jon Gregory, Simon Channing Williams
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Family Life
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 02/01/2005
Original Release Date: 10/25/1996
Theatrical Release Date: 10/25/1996
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 2hr 16min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 26
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

"Why can't we share our pain?"
mr_nasty | 09/21/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I would call this Mike Leigh's masterpiece, only I've seen many films by this brilliant director since screening this unfairly overlooked gem, and I feel ANY of his movies could be categorized as a "masterpiece". The movie centers on a black woman named Hortense (the multi-talented Marianne Jean-Baptiste) who, knowing she is adopted, is in the process of trying to discover the identity of her birth mother. She finds her real mother, a lower-class white woman named Cynthia Purley (Brenda Blethyn). Cynthia, unaware that Hortense is trying to look her up, has a more immediate problem - a rebellious daughter, Roxanne (the unfairly ignored Claire Rushbrook), who has no respect for her because of Cynthia's many affairs. Cynthia is also trying to reach out to her successful photographer-brother, Morris (perennial Leigh favorite Timothy Spall), but she can't quite get close to him because of the influence of Morris's seemingly cold wife, Monica (Phyllis Logan). If anyone knows anything of Mike Leigh's style of direction, you'll know why this film is so amazing . . Leigh doesn't simply write a screenplay and tell the actors what to do, he allows them to improvise and develop the characters themselves; the result is that these characters are more than just one-dimensional cardboard cutouts. ALL of these characters are unable to be categorized; they have characteristics that are UNIQUE and that make us care about them. Their complexity is illustrated not only in their actions and by what they say, but by what is NOT done or said in specific instances. ACTIONS of the characters are important (notice, for example, Hortense's inability to react emotionally, even in the family setting, or her reluctance to touch anyone). Another interesting feature is the way Leigh juxtaposes scenes of Morris taking pictures in his photography shop with the events of the story; we even become enamored by the characters that are seen only briefly, for a second, behind Morris's lens, posing for photographs. The cinematography also helps to add to the film's realism; it has a camcorder effect, without being at all shaky or deficient in sound quality. Finally, the ending: Some may find the ending overly sentimental; I found it remarkably real (and nowhere NEAR as sugary sweet as those found in Hollywood films). Let me only say that it succeeds in that the viewer isn't given total resolution, yet he is given HOPE; these characters CAN work out their problems with each other, and it raises a question that I (as one who is no stranger to family feuding), find very convicting: why, in family situations, do people so often choose to alienate themselves and suffer alone (often even punishing their loved ones, as illustrated by Roxanne and Monica), instead of SHARING their pain and helping one another? A great film . .worthy of much praise and able to withstand repeated viewings because of the depth of the story and the people involved. Here's hoping Mike Leigh will retain his style of filmmaking for years to come."
A triumph
RolloTomasi | California | 08/02/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"A mild-mannered, intelligent young black woman (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) tracks down her birth mother, Cynthia Purley (Brenda Blethyn), who just happens to be white. That's only the central plot thread in Mike Leigh's very poignant, very funny, very smart family drama, which received well-deserved Oscar nominations for best picture, best director, best actress, best supporting actress, and best original screenplay. A keenly observed piece set in middle-class and upper middle-class England, "Secrets & Lies" offers such an abundance of riches it's hard to know where to begin.The plot is fairly simple, though the emotions beneath it aren't. Cynthia is initially afraid to meet the child she gave up years ago, but eventually opens up and discovers that her long-lost daughter, Hortense, is not only a sweet and refined young lady, but the possible source of the love and affection she wants so badly. She receives none of that sort of attention from her other daughter, Roxanne, a bitter, sharp-tongued council worker who, like her secret half-sister, was conceived out of wedlock. Adding to the tension is Cynthia's relationship with her brother, Maurice, and his socially ambitious wife, Monica. The latter is pained by her inability to have a child, and particularly despises Cynthia, who is able to bear children but, in Monica's mind, unable to provide them with the family environment and opportunities that she can. All of these threads converge at an afternoon birthday party, during which all the pent-up secrets and lies explode like a sequence of fireworks. Emotions are laid bare, the past is revealed, and finally, the film hints, the healing process can begin.A synopsis really doesn't do full justice to the sheer impact of this film. In fact, it's almost insulting--and irrelevant--to discuss plot at all. "Secrets & Lies" isn't about plot in the conventional sense; it's about people. Each character is a complex, fully realized human being, brought to life by superior acting. Brenda Blethyn in particular does a spectacular job, and her Cynthia emerges as one of the most hilarious, endearing, and noble human portraits I've ever seen captured on film. Marianne Jean-Baptiste has a less showy role, but she occupies it with equally genuine warmth and humility. The other performances are consistently excellent, with Timothy Spall (Maurice) and Phyllis Long (Monica), who play tortured but thoroughly sympathetic characters, among the standouts.The actors are complimented by Leigh's superb direction. Each shot has clearly been carefully thought-out, but the camera is so unobtrusive, so casually observing, that it lends "Secrets & Lies" an almost documentary-like feel. And yet, Leigh's compassion for all his characters leaks through every frame. One of the best scenes in the film takes place in a teashop, with Cynthia and Hortense sharing a first meeting that moves from initial awkwardness to humor and hilarity, to intense sadness and finally to catharsis and relief. The scene is an unbroken, unedited single shot lasting for nearly eight minutes, and Blethyn and Jean-Baptiste sustain the dramatic tension for that long without missing a beat. It is a seamless culmination of acting, writing, and cinematography, and represents (I think) one of the most remarkable and honest shots ever committed to celluloid.Therein lies the secret to the success of "Secrets & Lies"--every moment in the film feels real. That quality is aided by the fact that, as is the case in all of Leigh's other films, the screenplay is a collaboration between both writer/director and actors. The dialogue never sounds scripted or contrived because most of it has been improvised by the actors themselves; thus, it's no wonder that the characters all but leap off the screen, and that spending time with them is such an engaging and rewarding experience.Some have criticized the film's overly "happy" ending, claiming that it feels a bit too pat to be real. I disagree. The conclusion, though admittedly more optimistic a resolution than most conflicted families can expect, remains utterly true to the characters' personalities and backgrounds. Actually, Leigh trumps the notion that all films attempting to illuminate the human condition must be overly bleak and pessimistic."Secrets & Lies" is not a fast-paced film, and at 152 minutes, it's quite long. It could have gone on for hours and hours as far as I was concerned. Mike Leigh has confirmed my long-held notion that American cinema could definitely learn a thing or two from the sure-and-steady British. Without a doubt, one of the best films, if not the best, of 1996."
Powerful emotional experience
Eddie Konczal | 10/14/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This film is possibly the most emotionally powerful film I have ever seen. I have never cared more for a group of characters as I did for those in "Secrets and Lies." Director/writer Mike Leigh is famous for giving his actors the outlines of their characters and having them improvise most of their lines. This technique succeeds brilliantly here - you feel as if you're a part of these people's lives. All the actors turn in wonderful performances - Brenda Blethyn as the long-suffering poor single English mother, Marianne Jean Baptiste as a young black girl in search of her natural parents, Claire Rushbrook as Blethyn's rebellious daughter, and Phyllis Logan as Blethyn's well-to-do yet frustrated sister in law. At the center of it all is a monumentally understated performance by Timothy Spall, who as Blethyn's brother attempts to hold everyone's lives together as they face the pain of their ordinary existence. A truly moving film that is one of the best ever."
Classic Mike Leigh flick finally makes it to DVD
Wayne Klein | My Little Blue Window, USA | 03/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Dysfunction is better than no function at all in Mike Leigh's "Secrets and Lies". Finally available on DVD to coincide with the Oscar nomination actress Imelda Staunton received for "Vera" (another film directed by Leigh), "Secrets and Lies" tells the story of a successful and well-to-do black woman Hortense Cumberbatch ( Oscar nominated Marianne Jean-Baptiste of "Without a Trace") who tracks down her birth mother. It seems her mother was a lower-class white woman named Monica Purley (Brenda Blethyn, Golden Globe winner and multiple Oscar nominee). Monica denies that she's Hortense's mother but gradually comes to accept and embrace her daughter despite their differences. A bittersweet comedy full of commanding performances, "Secrets and Lies" was a surprising box office success (hence its recognition by the Academy and the multiple nominations it deservedly earned). With rewarding performances all around and Leigh's naturalistic style, "Secrets and Lies" was a winner whether or not it pulled down any gold at Oscar time. Not bad for a guy who used to play in a band with Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music fame.

Many of Leigh's films feature uncompromising performances and partially improvised scripts. This collaborative method makes Leigh's films both unique and memorable even when they aren't very good. Luckily, "Secrets and Lies" is very, very good.

Sadly, this is a pretty bare bones affair. We get the original theatrical trailer and the theatrical trailers for "Author! Author!", "Blood & Wine" and "Class Action". It's a pity as 10 years on, it might have been interesting to catch up with the actors and the impact that their Oscar nominations had on their respective careers. There's also no commentary track but the drama speakes pretty well for itself.

A terrific, bittersweet comedy "Secrets and Lies" details the ordinary secrets we keep to ourselves and hide from each other. Leigh's marvelous direction and the ensemble cast's terrific performances elevate this from a simple movie-of-the-week on something like the Lifetime channel. Leigh's inspired approach to improvising much of the movie's dialogue with his cast (based on his character sketches and background story) creates a drama that is much closer to neo-realism in approach than just about any other film made within the last two decades. Although Leigh's made a number of stunning films, "Secrets and Lies" certainly deserves its reputation as one of his finest glimpses behind the curtain of subterfuge that's a part of the ordinary people in this terrific story.