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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful emotional experience
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...
Published on October 14, 2003 by Eddie Konczal

versus
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars AVOID THE DVD (IMPORT) VERSION
I, too, ordered this DVD from Amazon--only to find that it has Chinese subtitles that you CANNOT turn off. Amazon should absolutely include this information in their technical description. The picture quality was poor, and there is no menu or additional features. I could have overlooked the lack of features, but the subtitles are completely distracting. (Additional...
Published on December 4, 2001 by baileychun


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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful emotional experience, October 14, 2003
This review is from: Secrets & Lies [VHS] (VHS Tape)
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.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumph, August 1, 2000
By 
This review is from: Secrets & Lies [VHS] (VHS Tape)
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.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Mike Leigh flick finally makes it to DVD, March 7, 2005
This review is from: Secrets and Lies (DVD)
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.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mike Leigh's most accessible, emotional film - just perfect, February 6, 2005
By 
G. Mitchell "greggmitch" (Los Angeles, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Secrets and Lies (DVD)
I've seen a good number of Mike Leigh's films over the years, from early works like Bleak Moments and Abigail's Party to later indie hits like Life Is Sweet, Naked, and High Hopes, but THIS is his BEST, most perfectly realized film to date - from the pitch-perfect performances of the entire cast (due to months of exhaustive rehearsal to develop the each character no matter how small or large the role) to the understated, minimalist direction to the somber score to the conversational "script," SECRETS & LIES slowly builds until its cumulative effect toward the climax is one of the deepest emotional blows ever deliver on film - you feel as if you KNOW and LIVE with these people, so that they cease to be mere characters on screen and, well, like your own circle of family and friends - not always pretty, often messy, always brilliant, SECRETS & LIES deserves to be on DVD to a wider audience can share in its spell it casts over you. My only gripe is Fox's typically bare-bones DVD format - c'mon, NO commentary from Leigh on his creative process, NO insights from the cast, many of which went on to win a clutch of awards and crossover American work (Blethyn, Baptiste, etc.), NO featurette or DELETED scenes! The film itself is enough, I just wish there were a bit more to flesh out the entire experience.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So many excellent reasons to see this stunning film, May 4, 2001
This review is from: Secrets & Lies [VHS] (VHS Tape)
I find it impossible to recommend this movie strongly enough. I recently saw it for the first time, and oddly enough knew next to nothing about it. A year or so ago I saw TOPSY-TURVY with some friends, and they were raving about Mike Leigh as a filmmaker. So, when looking through my local video store for something new and intersting to view, two names jumped out at me from the box: Mike Leigh and Brenda Blethyn, whose performance in LITTLE VOICE had impressed me greatly.
I absolutely loved TOPSY-TURVY, but I am not sure but that SECRETS AND LIES is the stronger film. Less flashy, and I can easily imagine someone who does not enjoy dealing exclusively with interpersonal dynamics not particularly enjoying this. But for anyone who can appreciate an intense family drama, this film will be tough to top.
But the thing that most impressed me about SECRETS AND LIES is the acting. Brenda Blethyn was even better here than she was in LITTLE VOICE. In fact, I honestly do not know of any performance by an actor or actress anywhere that I can say is demonstrably better. I just sat in front of my VCR agog at her performance. I later read that she won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival, the British Academy Awards, and the Golden Globe Awards. The only award she failed to win was the Oscar, for which she was nominated, but which went instead to Frances MacDormand in FARGO. I loved FARGO and thought MacDormand did a great job, but if you watch these two performances side by side, you gain additional proof that the voters for the Oscars either do not watch all the films or see this as a sort of popularity contest. Frances MacDormand's performance was cute and her accent was convincing, but Brenda Blethyn's performance was the emotional equivalent of a fist to the guts. Brenda Blethyn should have swept all the acting awards that year with ease. I honestly do not remember a performance anywhere in which so much genuine, intense, and overwhelming emotion is projected. If you have not seen this movie, you owe it to yourself just to see Brenda Blethyn inconceivably great performance.
I was also pleased to see Timothy Spall again, who did such an excellent job of playing so sympathetically Richard Temple (the actor who created the title role in THE MIKAIDO) in TOPSY-TURVY. I have not seen him in every many roles, but after seeing him perform so well in these two very, very different roles, I very much want to see him again.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars AVOID THE DVD (IMPORT) VERSION, December 4, 2001
By 
"baileychun" (Dallas, Texas USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Secrets & Lies [IMPORT] (DVD)
I, too, ordered this DVD from Amazon--only to find that it has Chinese subtitles that you CANNOT turn off. Amazon should absolutely include this information in their technical description. The picture quality was poor, and there is no menu or additional features. I could have overlooked the lack of features, but the subtitles are completely distracting. (Additional note: expect the same problem if you order the DVD (import) version of Beautiful Thing, another fabulous British film from a few years ago.)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easily one of the best films of the 90's..., March 5, 2000
The performance given by Timothy Spall in this film is probably the best I ever seen in any film. His character is so real and believable it's often hard to be aware that you're not watching a documentary! In fact the whole film is like watching life as it happens out of your window. All the actors give brilliant performances, and the story is very moving. One of my Top 5 all-time favourite films...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Golden performance collectively. Leigh's genius shines., March 28, 2007
By 
P.J. Le Faucheur (Canada (ex- U.K. resident)) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Secrets and Lies (DVD)
With regards to it's level of poignancy and bittersweetness this film rates with Mike Leigh's other film "Career Girls".

In terms of acting ability EVERYONE in this film, even the cute dog who poses for the camera, gives the performance of their lives and should've received awards. Few films leave me trembling with emotion but also loving all the characters. Timothy Spall's performance is just TOTALLY beyond explanation. I just loved his line "That's life isn't it? Somebody always has to draw the short straw" when he was speaking to the young lady with a facial scar. The power behind that line really got me thinking.

In the end basically we ALL draw the short straw although we might get there by different means.

Brenda Blethyn must've been an emotional wreck after this film similar to the character she plays. How she kept up constant weeping baffles me.

Marianne Jean -Baptiste is just beautiful. What a stunning, multi-talented actress.

Claire Rushbrook's character reminds me of so many characters i knew back in London. Good , honest hearted people, slightly near the edge but then we ALL are near the edge in truth.

A more candid look at life could not be put on film but then this is what Mike Leigh excels in.

Leigh's criticised sometimes for making his scenes dismal (although it's sunny throughout this one) and his characters wretched, beyond salvation and to be pitied but far from it. After all what he unearths is the truth that exists in families, the skeletons in the closets.

If this film had been done in Hollywood it would never have the same impact.

It's a petty argument indeed but some folk have suggested that Marianne Jean-Baptistes character is too dark skinned for her considered being of mixed parentage. I can tell them otherwise. It CAN occur on rare occasions and i have firsthand proof of this. Genetics is something we still don't have full control over, thankfully.

Forget analysing this film in detail and just enjoy a collective solid gold standard of performance.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Adoption's secret side revealed..., December 20, 2006
This review is from: Secrets and Lies (DVD)
I love films, and I loved this film. But as an adoptee, in the process of reunion (in the states, where it is unecassarily, and painfully harder to search), this film touched places in me that it couldn't for the other reviewers.

My reunion has been eerily similar to the characters' in this film-

an Aunt, who thought my sister had a right to know about me, who loved her nieces and resented their mother for squandering her oppurtunity at motherhood, when she couldn't have the children she so desperately wanted, and who finally faced the truth of that resentment, and the reality of her situation.

A birthmother, who though she can't quite get it together, for the love of her children, tries to reach within herself to find the strength to face her past, to turn to the truth instead of secrets.

The quiet person in the background that holds everyone together, when they are trying their best to tear themselves apart -that would be the photographer in the film- who, although seemingly disinterested with his job a times, it's quite clear it's his only escape from the dysfunction of his family, and the only light in his existence.

The adoptee- who, though she wants to know her roots so badly, is ill prepared for these wounds that have run so deep, for so long. She doesn't want to displace anyone in the process of the reunion, but fights her own internal needs constantly, so she can get some peace and closure, and not just have the door slammed in her face. Although she has done well for herself, you can see in Hortense' eyes, that piece of herself is missing, that part of herself that isn't like anyone else she's known in her life. That is the burden you can see visibly lifted of Hortense' shoulders in the final scenes, and you can even see those little pieces finding their way back into everyone's hearts.

Some of the looks, and emotions you can see Hortense going through, are ones I just felt a month ago, or even last week. Unless you have walked in her shoes, you couldn't know what some of the looks she gives Monica mean. For me, though, those looks were some of the most poignant moments in the film. This film definetely has all the elements of a great film, but more importantly to me, is how accurate this film can be when looking at the reality of reunions, what they are about, what they feel like. The fact is, reunions bring out all the skeletons in the closet, they reveal the truth, in the end, there are no more secrets and lies, (perhaps that's why people have fought here in the state's to keep the records sealed).

It's just too bad the state's don't allow adoptees or birthparents the right to heal, like Britain does in this film (with their open records). They add to the pain with their antiquated take on adoption. If you are so moved by this film, I encourage you to look into supporting an open records cause.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars DO NOT BUY THIS DVD!, November 1, 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Secrets & Lies [IMPORT] (DVD)
Whatever you do, do not buy this horrible, "IMPORTED" edition of this fine film. What Amazon forgets to mention in its "technical information" section is that this is an import from China! That means the text on the DVD's case is written almost exclusively in Chinese. Also--and much more importantly--this DVD has Chinese subtitles that you can not get rid of. Additionally, the sound and image are well beyond subpar; the VHS edition is cleaner.
So unless you're a collector of imported DVD's, do not buy this DVD!
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Secrets and Lies
Secrets and Lies by Mike Leigh (DVD - 2005)
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