Secrets & Lies | Chicago Reader

Secrets & Lies

Mike Leigh's gripping, multifaceted 142-minute comedy-drama, winner of the grand prize at Cannes in 1996, may well be his most accessible and optimistic picture. A young black optometrist (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) seeks out her white biological mother (Brenda Blethyn), a factory worker who put her up for adoption at birth, and as the two become acquainted, tensions build between the mother and another illegitimate daughter, between the mother and her kid brother (Timothy Spall), and between him and his wife, leading to a ferocious climax. The dense, Ibsen-like plotting of family revelations is dramatically satisfying in broad terms, though it leaves a few details unaccounted for. But the acting is so strong—with Spall a particular standout—that you're carried along as by a tidal wave. The younger daughter, a close cousin of the bulimic daughter in Leigh's Life Is Sweet, is the weakest link in the chain of family discord, yet Leigh orchestrates the whole thing with such panache that you're not likely to mind her too much.

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