Mike Leigh is a master at dissecting the dysfunctional family. He fills a cauldron with sadness, regret and shame. He gives it a swirl, adds a man as peace-keeping patriarch among three women seeking solace but with simmering recriminations. He serves it up, introducing us to the Purley family.
Factory worker Cynthia Purley (Brenda Blethyn) and her nearly 21-year-old daughter Roxanne Purley (Claire Rushbrook) bicker as Cynthia tries to forge a closer relationship. Roxanne pulls away, horrified her mother wants to meet her boyfriend and talk about birth control. Cynthia is estranged from her brother Maurice Purley (Timothy Spall) because his wife Monica Purley (Phyllis Logan—you’ll recognize her as Mrs. Hughes of Downton Abbey) isn’t fond of Cynthia. Monica suffers cutting disappointment at not being able to conceive while Cynthia has been fertile under less-than-ideal circumstances.
When photographer Maurice drops by unexpectedly after nearly a year to see Cynthia, they snap back into their relationship and we learn about the deep familial wounds and strong connection they share. Maurice decides to throw Roxanne a 21st birthday party.
Add to this already volatile mix a young African-American woman Hortense Cumberbatch (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) who comes calling for Cynthia, claiming to be the child she gave up for adoption when Cynthia was 15 years old—a secret that will be unleashed and create upheaval in the Purley households.
Secrets & Lies is a classic that holds up 17 years later. The dialogue is rich with characters deflecting questions and offering more in non-answers. The movie rolls like a play. It beckons the viewer to join the characters in their sadness, anger, frustration and humor. The viewer readily obliges because it’s a well-made movie.
Writer/Director: Mike Leigh
Run time: 140 minutes