Secrets & Lies (1996)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Family Drama, Reunion Films  |   Release Date - Sep 28, 1996 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 140 min.  |   Countries - France , United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Michael Hastings

Mike Leigh's biggest success in America at the time, 1996's Secrets & Lies was also the closest the renegade director had ever come to fashioning a conventional melodrama. Its universal themes of familial reunion and forgiveness no doubt contributed to its success at the box office -- as well as with the Academy, who nominated it for five Oscars -- but there's no mistaking the unforced, nuanced rhythms of Secrets & Lies for those of a traditional Hollywood tearjerker. As per Leigh's improvisational style, the film spreads its attention democratically amongst its characters until finding its core relationship: the unlikely mother-daughter combo of Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Alternately histrionic and sympathetic, Academy Award nominee Blethyn chooses not to opt for an overly sympathetic performance à la Shirley MacLaine or Bette Midler; instead, she and Leigh have the courage to make Cynthia somewhat grating at times (an opinion shared by her other daughter, played by the hilariously frustrated Claire Rushbrook). For her part, Best Supporting Actress nominee Jean-Baptiste is a model of reserve and compassion. Watch for her reactions during the train station reunion scene -- Leigh hadn't told either actress whom to expect during the shoot.