NB: Spoilers alert!
I saw Secrets & Lies for the first time when it came out in the nineties. It was my first “Mike Leigh” and I have remained a faithful fan ever since.
I love his gentle way of exposing difficult, ambivalent social structures. As a disliker of the male gaze, alas omnipresent in the movie world, I don’t see it in his films. He is ever so careful to reveal both the male and the female side of things. I am a sucker for that.
Secrets & Lies… where shall I begin? It’s a masterpiece of a movie. Every little bit is done to perfection. Every actor is 100% well cast, and “gives it all”.
Brenda Blethyn (Mrs. Bennet as a similarly emotional character in Pride & Prejudice, also title role in Vera ) of course, in the role of her life, if I may say so. Mind blowing as the nervous and weakly woman of the masses, working in a factory, having brought up out of wedlock a pain in the ass of a daughter. The daughter herself… In Holland we have a word for this sort of persons, the “Tokkies”, originally a family in a documentary, now a category of white trashy people. Well, Roxanne is definitely a Tokkie. Coarse mouthed, brutal, nihilistic, fervent attendee at the local pubs, drinks beer off the can and growls at her loving and caring mother. She works ‘at the Council’, an eufemism for picking up trash on the streets. How Claire Rushbrook manages to look and behave appaling from begin to the end is a miracle of acting. Note a young Phyllis Logan (much later Mrs. Hughes in Downton Abbey) as the sister-in-law. Note also the new daughter’s surname: Cumberbatch, then a rare one (Cynthia: “Cumberbunch, that’s a funny name ain’t it?“), before it rose to worldwide fame together with its later owner Benedict.
The black theme. At first it IS a thing. Because dark skinned Hortense (a superb role of Marianne Jean-Baptiste‘s) falls from the skies into this all white family, and at first, the mother has genuinly no recollection of it – ”I have never been with a black man in my life.” We will never know the true nature of this sex, but the way she had completely suppressed it, avoids talking about it, and breaks down everytime it does happen, leads us to suspect rape, at fifteen. A beautiful thing about this story, is how the black thing almost instantly stops being an issue. What is left is the grinding conjunction of different classes. All the element clash: interests, intelligence, upbringing, accents, general way of life, even trivial things like garments and furniture. One thing and one thing alone saves the interaction: love.
The Tokkie mother is deeply gentle and caring. Her brother too (a surprisingly subtle role of Timothy Spall ‘s), and even so the “new” daughter. Their love ultimately brings the whole family together, where it had been conflicted in the past. Another beautiful and promising example of ‘love is stronger than hate.‘
Because in the end, in spite of racial and class conflicts, love is truly what will heal the world.