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Secrets & Lies

film poster
Directed by Mike Leigh
Produced by Simon Channing-Williams
Written by Mike Leigh
Starring Brenda Blethyn
Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Timothy Spall
Phyllis Logan
Music by Andrew Dickson
Cinematography Dick Pope
Editing by Jon Gregory
Distributed by October
Release date(s) France May, 1996 (premiere at Cannes)
United Kingdom 24 May 1996
Australia 5 September 1996
Canada 27 September 1996
United States 27 September 1996 (limited)
Running time 142 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $4.5 million

Secrets & Lies is a 1996 British film directed by Mike Leigh and starring Brenda Blethyn, who won the award for Best Actress at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.[1] The film won numerous other awards and received several Academy Award nominations.



The film tells the story of Hortense Cumberbatch, a successful black optometrist, who is adopted. After the death of her adoptive mother, she chooses to trace her family history and discovers that her birth mother, Cynthia Purley, is a working-class white woman. She meets her and later meets Cynthia's brother, Maurice Purley, a photographer, and his wife Monica, and Cynthia's daughter Roxanne.


Although Leigh is credited with writing the screenplay, most of the performances were improvised: Leigh told each of the actors about their roles, and let them create their own lines.

Secrets and Lies was partly filmed in Whitehouse Way, Southgate, London.

The emotional scene in the bar, in which Cynthia realises that she is indeed Hortense's mother, was filmed in a single uninterrupted take of almost 8 minutes.


The film was a critical success. It has a 94% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a website that collects film reviews, with an average rating of 8.7.[2]

The film won the prestigious Palme d'Or and Best Actress (Brenda Blethyn) awards at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival,[1] and Golden Globe and BAFTA Best Actress awards.

The film was also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Brenda Blethyn), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), Best Director, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.

Influential film critic Roger Ebert entered the film to his Great Movies collection in 2009.[3]

    • Best Actress - Brenda Blethyn - WON
    • Best Film
    • Best British Film - WON
    • Best Screenplay - WON
    • Best Supporting Actress


Positive pickets

This film was the subject of "positive pickets" by the adult adoptee rights organization Bastard Nation, which used it as a vehicle to raise awareness of sealed birth records in the United States and Canada. (See No More Secrets and Lies: Bastard Nation's Positive Picket(November 1996 - March 1997)

Director Mike Leigh and actress Brenda Blethyn met with Bastard Nation activists at a positive picket in Beverly Hills on March 10, 1997, where they were presented with Bastard Nation T-shirts. (See Beverly Hills Secrets and Lies Rally, March 10, 1997)


External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
The Madness of King George
Alexanda Korda Award for Best British Film
Succeeded by
Nil by Mouth


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