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Review: 'Secrets & Lies' One of the Most Emotionally Rich Entries to The Criterion Collection

by Greg Vellante
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Apr 5, 2021
Review: 'Secrets & Lies' One of the Most Emotionally Rich Entries to The Criterion Collection

There's a single, uninterrupted take in Mike Leigh's "Secrets & Lies" that lasts for approximately seven minutes and showcases the brilliance of its main actors. Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays Hortense Cumberbatch, who meets the woman she believes to be her birth mother at a café. That woman, Cynthia Rose Purely, is played with unforgettable effect by Brenda Blethyn, who gives a performance filled with anxious chain-smoking, polite mannerisms and overwhelming sadness. As the two sit across from one another, the latter slowly discovers that she is indeed the former's birth mother, and all vulnerabilities melt away.

It's a spot-on scene in an overall excellent film, and it signifies what is usually the highlight in Mike Leigh's filmography: His phenomenal cast. His actors' performances are created through months of exhaustive improvisation, as Leigh and the performers slowly craft the characters together. As a result, watching "Secrets & Lies" feels like truly witnessing lives being lived; it's never overly dramatic or greedy in its emotions. Everything is perfectly balanced and undeniably powerful.

On a human level, the film should inevitably move even the more hardened of souls, as it bobs and weaves with such naturalism from scene to scene that it feels like we're playing witness to something we perhaps shouldn't be. It focuses on many things - family, social issues, and, of course, secrets and lies — but its biggest strength is simply its emotional honesty. These characters feel so real and rich that you can almost reach out and touch them.

"Secrets & Lies," which is arguably one of Leigh's finest works, has arrived on The Criterion Collection. It's worth it for the film alone, which comes to us in a new 2K digital restoration that has been approved by Leigh and director of photography Dick Pope, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. We get a few new conversations for bonus features, one with Leigh and composer Gary Yershon, the other between actor Marianne Jean-Baptiste and film critic Corrina Antrobus. There's also an audio interview with Leigh, conducted by film critic Michel Ciment in 1996. Other than that, there's nothing aside from an essay within the packaging's inner booklet by film programmer and critic Ashley Clark.

Despite a lack of supplemental material, this is one of the most emotionally rich entries to The Criterion Collection in some time and certainly worthy of picking up sight unseen or for a revisit.

"Secrets & Lies" is currently available on The Criterion Collection Blu-ray for the suggested retail price of $31.96

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