Secrets and Lies is my first Mike Leigh film, and it was the exact opposite of what I thought it would be. I had thought it would be a light, airy romp. Instead, it's a rather dreary examination of the titular Secrets and Lies that slowly destroy a middle class English family. It can get pretty depressing, and it's a lot more like This Sporting Life than The Full Monty.
Technically, it's the story of a young girl named Hortense, who's adopted mother's death leads her to look for her birth mother. But it's also about Cynthia, Hortense's real mother. She has a 20 year old daughter and works in a box factory. She also cries. A lot. Finally, the story also rotates around Cynthia's brother and his wife. Despite the broad range, all the characters have one thing in common; secrets.
Leigh's film takes a very, very long time introducing it's characters. It takes about an hour before things start happening, and even then it's a while before the climax. However, the movie also uses it's long running time as an advantage, creating a mood of submission. Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays Hortense, and although her character lacks the most depth, it still feels heavily cultivated and rich.
The film boasts some great performances, but the one that really stuck out for me was Brenda Blethyn. She plays Cynthia as perhaps one of the most pathetic characters I've seen on film. She's just so desperately sad, that every time it looks like she's going to cry you just want to give her a hug. She made me feel so sad for her, and her very boring and uninteresting life only haunts her character even more. Blethyn gives an outstanding performance as the character, and she gives the film it's heart.
However it can't hurt to have Timothy Spall playing Maurice, Cynthia's brother. He's an incredibly likeable presence and he's also the most humane and enjoyable character. While maybe a little too much time is spent on his photography business, it still helps to humanize the character. Phyllis Logan and Claire Rushbrook also give fantastic performances.
Another great aspect towards the film is Leigh's screenplay. He does wonders with the characters, creating people I actually believe I have known. And although his film is a little long, each and every moment is wonderfully scripted with some fantastic dialogue. I also noticed that there were a number of very long shots that I really loved as well. The score is rather ordinary, but it serves it's purpose very well. There's also a lot of great locations on the film as well, with all the apartments and whatnot feeling incredibly lived in.
As I said above, I was genuinely surprised by the film's tone. It was a lot more bittersweet than I could have imagined, and it worked very well within the story as well. However, it's a little long, and a bit of the first hour could have also been trimmed a little. But, small differences aside, this is a very enjoyable and very interesting little movie. Definitely worth a watch.