Hortense is a young black optometrist, living in London. She weeps at her mother's funeral. Her father is al ready dead. They are her adoptive parents, and she now feels the need to try to find her birth mother.
She receives instructions to visit a social worker, who, along with some general sympathetic advice, gives her her case file. From this, Hortense discovers to her surprise and consternation that her birth mother was white.
Her mother is Cynthia, a sad, unmarried woman who works in a factory, and lives in a shabby terrace house with her daughter Roxanne, a council road sweeper They do not get on.
Cynthia's surroundings contrast sharply with those of Maurice, her younger brother, a successful suburban portrait and wedding photographer. His modern house boasts beautiful interior decoration, the work of his childless wife, Monica.
Cynthia and Maurice's mother having died when they were children, Cynthia effectively brought Maurice up. They have not seen or spoken to each other for some time, and they miss each other Maurice feels guilty about his neglect, Cynthia resentful. No love is lost between Cynthia and Monica. MAURICE visits Cynthia, who becomes very emotional. He announces that he and Monica intend to throw a small barbecue party for Roxanne's 21st birthday.
Meanwhile, having gone to some lengths to track Cynthia down, Hortense plucks up the courage to 'phone her. On eventually realising who the caller is, Cynthia is deeply distressed; but, alter some hesitation, she agrees to meet her a few days later in Central London.
The meeting takes place. However, on seeing that Hortense is black, Cynthia insists that there has been a mis-take. Only when Hortense has persuaded her to go to a cafe does a long-suppressed memory come flooding back to Cynthia, and she realises that Hortense is indeed her elder daughter The two women now start to meet and go out, and what begins in a fraught and suspicious way now develops into a warm, loving mother-daughter relationship.
Whilst Roxanne shares with her quiet, scaffolder boyfriend Paul, how mystified she is by the sudden change in her mother, Maurice and Monica anguish over whether Cynthia has ever told Roxanne she has a half-sibling somewhere, and over the Bark secret of Monica's infertility.
Maurice and Monica are also much affected by the surprise visit by the previous owner of their business, Stuart, who has returned from his failed emigration to Australia in a advanced state of alcoholic nervous breakdown.
When Cynthia now phones Maurice to ask is she can bring a friend from work to the barbecue, he agrees, albeit apprehensively. When he teils Monica, she is equally circumspect.
Hortense is reluctant to come to the party, but Cynthia persuades her. She duly arrives, and nobody knows who she really is. In a traumatic moment Cynthia reveals the truth, and all hell breaks loose. Most Upset of all is Roxanne, whose birthday party is thrown into total disarray.
But out of the ensuing chaos come truths and revelations, and, although some serious questions remain for the time being unanswered, calm, understanding and forgiveness prevail.
And everybody is much changed for the better.

Director's Statement

SECRET & LIES is about roots and identity, the ever-changing images we all have of ourselves and each other, and our compulsive need to reaffirm constantly who and what we are, and where we come from.
lt is also a tale of love and caring and deep longings, and of the awesome relentlessness of the passage of time.

Director's Biography

Mike Leigh, writer and film director, was born in 1943 in Salford, Lancashire. He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, at Camberwell, and Central Arts Schools at the London Film School.
His first feature film was BLEAK MOMENTS (1971), which won the Grands Prix at Chicago and Locarno Film Festivals. This was followed by the full-length television films, HARD LABOUR (1973), NUTS IN MAY (1975), THE KISS OF DEATH (1976), WHOS'S WHO (1978), GROWN-UPS (1980), HOME SWEET HOME (1982), MEANTIME (1983) and FOUR DAYS IN JULY (1984), which was shot entirely an location in Belfast.
His recent feature films HIGH HOPES (1988), LIFE IS SWEET (1990) and NAKED (1992) have been highly successful internationally, all winning numerous prestigious awards, including Best Director for NAKED at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.

Mike Leigh has also written and directed over twenty stage plays, including Babies Grow Old w (RSC, 1974), Abigail's Party (Hampstead Theatre/BBC 1977), Ecstasy (Hampstead Theatre, 1979), Goose-Pimples (Hampstead/Garrick Theatres, 1981), Greek Tragedy (Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney, Australie, 1989) and It's a Great Big Shame (Theatre Royal, Stratford East, 1993).

He formed Thin Man Films with producer Simon Channing-Williams in 1989. He was awarded the OBE in 1993.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Mike Leigh

Written by: Mike Leigh

Produced by: Simon Channing-Williams

Cast: Brenda Blethyn (Cynthia), Phyllis Logan (Monica), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Hortense), Timothy Spall (Maurice)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Film 1996
  • Feature Film Selection 1996