Secrets and Lies

12 Apr

Cynthia (played by Brenda Blethyn) watches as the machine punches another slot into the rectangle on her work table. She turns the material, punches it, turns it, punches it … it goes on and on. This is her life – she works on the “slot machine” in a cardboard box factory. It’s monotonous work and doesn’t offer much excitement … much like her entire life. She makes her way home the cluttered terrace house she shares with her daughter Roxanne (by Claire Rushbrook). Roxanne’s done a little better for herself – she works for the Council as a street sweeper. They exist here – Roxanne occasionally sees her boyfriend Paul (by Lee Ross) and Cynthia gets the odd call or visit from her much adored younger brother Maurice (by Timothy Spall) – he’s really done well. He’s a photographer with a successful business, he lives in a lovely new home (although she hasn’t visited since they moved there 2 years ago) and he’s very happy with his wife, Monica (by Phyllis Logan) – Cynthia and Monica have never really got on, but having no children of their own, Maurice and Monica dote on their niece Roxanne, soon to turn 21. Since Cynthia and Maurice’s parents died, Cynthia has stayed in the house but never cleared out all their belongings. She sits, smokes, chats with Roxanne and tends to her small range of plants in the backyard. Life goes on. One day her phone rings – a young woman introduces herself as Elizabeth – “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, sweetheart — there’s been some mistake!” says Cynthia. Elizabeth, her mother, died several years ago – but no, the young woman says “I’m Elizabeth … your daughter …”   Shocked and in turmoil, Cynthia agrees to meet with “Elizabeth”, now named Hortense by her adopted parents – who Cynthia, as a young sixteen year old, adopted out at birth without even seeing. Slowly, the realisation hits Cynthia that this is her daughter and she must face all the secrets she’s hidden up to now – this is the beginning of a cascade of revelations in the family … things are already only delicately balanced between herself, Roxanne, Maurice and Monica – what will happen if Hortense is added to this mix? … How will this work out? … What will Roxanne say? … Is there any way this can work out without any of these people getting hurt? … 

This is a great, but exhausting movie. The drama is deep and emotional – a “warts and all” look at real people, real life, real issues and the way they get on with it. There are several layers – Cynthia’s utter despair and loneliness; Roxanne’s relationships with her mother, her uncle and aunt and her boyfriend; Hortense’s journey of discovery and the decisions she makes; Maurice and Monica’s “perfect, happy life” – absent of children and full of heartbreak; Maurice’s ongoing attempts to conciliate between the three women … all the characters are marvellous and powerful. Every performance is riveting and so authentic. For her work here, in the 1997 awards season, Brenda Blethyn won the Best Leading Actress Golden Globe and BAFTA, she was also nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar), Marianne Jean-Baptiste was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA, Mike Leigh was nominated for his Direction and Writing and Timothy Spall was nominated for a BAFTA as Best Actor – all very well deserved. The timing of the drama is very well done with each issue unfolding and providing a new layer to the emerging story. The surroundings are necessarily bleak and drab, with each character’s courageous attempts to “make the best” of everything, because they have to, because the only other option is not to and to fall into the depths of despair. It’s not happy – but it’s very good.

Made in 1996. Directed by Mike Leigh.

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Posted by on April 12, 2015 in Movies


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