The film tells the story of Hortense Cumberbatch, a successful black middle class optometrist in London, who is adopted and has chosen to trace her family history after the death of her adoptive mother. After being warned by public officials about the troubles she could face by tracking her birth mother down, she continues her investigation and is baffled to learn that her birth mother is white but does not resent her and wants to know more about her past. Her birth mother, Cynthia Purley, is working class and downwardly mobile. Hortense meets her and later meets Cynthia’s brother, Maurice Purley, a photographer, his wife Monica, and Cynthia’s daughter Roxanne, a street cleaner.
At the Purleys’, it is evident that severe tensions exist between Roxanne and her mother. Both are frustrated with one another and getting on one another’s nerves. Maurice and Monica also experience domestic tensions. Monica comes across as abrupt, but later scenes reveal that she suffers from severe menstrual cramps and Monica makes concerted efforts to placate matters and be contrite.
Things are also not well between Maurice and his sister, they are a bit awkward with one another but both look forward to celebrating Roxanne’s birthday. Cynthia refers to Maurice affectionately as her little brother and asks him as she always does when he is going to shave. It is clear that Cynthia somehow can survive by the money she receives from Maurice.
Hortense rings Cynthia and asks for a ‘Cynthia Rose Purley’, and starts talking about a baby called “Elizabeth Purley”, born in 1968. Cynthia realises that Hortense is her daughter whom she gave up for adoption and hangs up the phone. Hortense is still determined to find out more about her background. She rings Cynthia again and manages to convince her to meet with her. When they finally do, Cynthia feels that a grave mistake has been made. Hortense convinces Cynthia to have a cup of tea. Hortense asks Cynthia to look at a document; she then begins to cry and then states that she is ashamed. Hortense then wants to know who her father is, to which Cynthia refuses to answer.
Secrets & Lies is a 1996 British drama film written and directed by Mike Leigh. Led by an ensemble cast consisting of many Leigh regulars, it stars Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Hortense, a well-educated black middle-class London optometrist, who was adopted as a baby and has chosen to trace her family history – only to discover that her birth mother, Cynthia, played by Brenda Blethyn, is a working-class white woman with a dysfunctional family. Claire Rushbrook co-stars as Cynthia’s other daughter Roxanne, while Timothy Spall and Phyllis Logan portray Cynthia’s brother and sister-in-law, who have secrets of their own affecting their everyday family life.
Secrets & Lies was one of the films competing for the Palme d’Or at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. It eventually won three awards, including the Best Actress award for Blethyn and the Palme d’Or. Critically acclaimed, the film won numerous other awards, including the Goya Award for Best European Film and the LFCC Award for Film of the Year. At the 50th British Academy Film Awards, the film received seven nominations, winning both Best British Film and Best Original Screenplay. It also received five Academy Award nominations, while Blethyn also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama for her portrayal.
Secrets and Lies (1996)
Directed by: Mike Leigh
Starring: Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Phyllis Logan, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Claire Rushbrook, Lesley Manville, Elizabeth Berrington, Michele Austin, Emma Amos, Hannah Davis
Screenplay by: Mike Leigh
Production Design by:
Cinematography by: Dick Pope
Film Editing by: Jon Gregory
Costume Design by:
Set Decoration by:
Art Direction by:
Music by: Andrew Dickson
Distributed by: October Films
Release Date: September 27, 1996