This flawless ensemble cast has enabled Mike Leigh to take the risk of using a small story to tell a large truth.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Writer/director Mike Leigh's "Secrets and Lies" is a funny, sad, deeply moving movie with a cast that is impossibly perfect. Interpreting Leigh's characters with astonishing insight, the actors enable him to take a small slice of English life and make it nothing less than universal. This luminous movie could be about any country, any class, any family in the world.

But this is about two small branches of a family that knows very little pleasure and a lot of pain. Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn) is a worn-down, never-wed mother who lives miserably in a cluttered stall of a house with her embittered adult daughter, Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook.) When work is done (box factory, street cleaning), they return home to bicker life away, while Cynthia tries to soften the loneliness that is eroding her soul.

Not far away, a young, black optometrist has recently lost her adoptive parents and decides to find her birth mother. Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) finds Cynthia, and they meet in a coffee shop, where Brenda Blethyn, as Cynthia, unleashes one of the finest performances to grace a movie in years. If you begin to suspect sentimentality, think again. This group has drilled far too close to emotional reality for that.

To round out this unhappy family we have Cynthia's brother Maurice (Timothy Spall) and his wife Monica (Phyllis Logan). Monica nurtures their house, while Maurice runs his photography studio with great tolerance for the nervous subjects who come to capture special moments in their bland lives. Maurice manages, with characteristic patience and kindness, to give them photographs of the moments as they wish they had been.

Timothy Spall builds the character of Maurice with such sureness and consistency that it becomes almost unbearable to watch the forbearance in his eyes. This is a kind man who passes no judgment. He and his sister have enormous reservoirs of love to give and a great need to be loved in return. He is a gentle miracle.

In an effort to reach out to his sister, Maurice and Monica decide to give a 21st birthday party for Cynthia's Roxanne. Cynthia brings Hortense, who is introduced as a friend, and the stage is set for yet another family gathering where secrets and lies prevent any genuine family connections. This is a withering perception of just how scared we all are of family truth.

Finally, Maurice can no longer stand the half-truths and simmering animosities that burn holes in people as they mutter platitudes. Better, he thinks, for a family to face the consequences of the truth than to continue to live with infection in the family bloodstream.

This flawless ensemble cast has enabled Mike Leigh to take the risk of using a small story to tell a large truth. It is probable that you will not soon see two performances as fine as those of Brenda Blethyn and Timothy Spall. This is how illusion casts light on the world.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 496
Studio : October Films
Rating : R
Running Time: 2h22m

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