The observational mode of Mike Leigh’s storytelling in Secrets & Lies did not initially impress me. Leigh tends to stand back from his characters; his camera maintains a close proximity to working-class mother Cynthia (Oscar-nominated Brenda Blethyn), her brother Maurice (Timothy Spall) and Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), the daughter Cynthia gave away decades ago …but generally we’re not granted overt exposition to explain how these people know another or, more importantly, who they are.
It’s only by spending time with these people that we come to know them, and watch the stereotypes and surfaces slide away. While I prefer a more engaging approach to storytelling than Leigh’s, I can’t deny how effectively he captures the sense of these people and the secrets and lies (Hey! That’s the name of the movie!) that simultaneously bind them together and tear them apart. There’s a deep sense of tension that builds as the film progresses, a knot that tightens and frays in the pit of your chest.
A key line comes late in the film: “You wanted to find the truth and you were prepared to suffer the consequences.” Secrets & Lies is about the consequences – good and bad – born of severing that knot.