Secrets & Lies

Critics Consensus

Secrets & Lies delves into social issues with delicate aplomb and across-the-board incredible acting, and stands as one of writer-director Mike Leigh's most powerful works.



Total Count: 37


Audience Score

User Ratings: 11,267
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Secrets & Lies Photos

Movie Info

It is an irony of family life that much of its fabric is held together with the tenuous stitches of every day lies. When suddenly revealed, such small seemingly innocent deceits can cause tears that are difficult to repair. As with other Mike Leigh films, this drama offer a darkly serio-comic look into the dysfunctional lives of average people. Following her adoptive mother's death, Hortense, a successful, black London optometrist, visits a social worker in hopes of finding her biological mother. White single mother Cynthia lives in a decaying part of town. She and her daughter Roxanne have a love-hate relationship and constantly argue. Cynthia's younger brother Maurice, a successful photographer, lives on a better side of town. He is married to the obsessive-compulsive, emotionally distant but abusive Monica. One day, Maurice pays a long overdue visit to Cynthia and offers to host Roxanne's 21st birthday party at his home. Soon afterward Hortense shows up claiming that Cynthia is her birth mother. Cynthia is terrified to see this sudden reminder of her past and matters are not helped when Hortense says exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. Despite their initial difficulty, the two women's curiosity overcomes their fears and they decide to meet at an empty tearoom. There they become friends and come to a sort of peace, one that threatens the entire family when Cynthia invites Hortense to Roxanne's party. Mike Leigh's first film in since 1993, Secrets and Lies was nominated for several Oscars and earned the Golden Palm award at Cannes in 1996.


Ron Cook
as Stuart
Lesley Manville
as Social Worker
Brian Bovell
as Hortense's Brother
Emma Amos
as Girl with Scar
Brian Boyell
as Hortense's Brother
Trevor Laird
as Hortense's Brother
Clare Perkins
as Hortense's Sister-in-Law
Elias Perkins McCook
as Hortense's Nephew
June Mitchell
as Senior Optometrist
Janice Acquah
as Junior Optician
Keeley Flanders
as Girl in Optician's
Hannah Davis
as First Bride
Terence Harvey
as First Bride's Father
Kate O'Malley
as Second Bride
Grant Master
as Best Man
Annie Hayes
as Mother in Family Group
Jean Ainslie
as Grandmother
Daniel Smith (III)
as Teenage Son
Frances Ruffelle
as Young Mother
Nitin Chandra Ganatra
as Potential Husband
Metin Marlow
as Conjuror
Amanda Crossley
as Raunchy Woman
Su Eliot
as Raunchy Woman
Di Sherlock
as Raunchy Woman
Alex Squires
as Triplet
Sade Squires
as Triplet
Dominic Curran
as Little Boy
Stephen Churchett
as Man in Suit
David Neilson
as Man in Suit
Peter Stockbridge
as Man in Suit
Peter Waddington
as Man in Suit
Rachel Lewis
as Graduate
Paul Trussell
as Grinning Husband
Denise Orita
as Uneasy Woman
Margery Withers
as Elderly Lady
Gordon Winter
as Laughing Man
Peter Wight
as Father in Family Group
Alison Steadman
as Dog Owner
Liz Smith
as Cat owner
Sheila Kelley
as Fertile Mother
Angela Curran
as Little Boy's Mother
Linda Beckett
as Pinup Housewife
Philip Davis
as Man in Suit
Ruth Sheen
as Laughing Woman
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News & Interviews for Secrets & Lies

Critic Reviews for Secrets & Lies

All Critics (37) | Top Critics (8)

  • Leigh's best work yet is indisputably screen art, but it's a flesh-and-blood 'people' movie, too.

    Jan 1, 2000 | Rating: 4/4

    Mike Clark

    USA Today
    Top Critic
  • Secrets and Lies is a beautifully constructed sentimental melodrama, with none of the rough edges that Mike Leigh has insisted on in the past.

    Nov 15, 2017 | Full Review…
  • In the hands of another director, it would have been a sentimental melodrama, a soap opera, but with nuanced writing and sharp helming, Mike Leigh mixes humor and pathos in equal measure.

    Mar 18, 2011 | Rating: A- | Full Review…
  • Much more than just a touching story of the ties that bind humanity and the way we reveal ourselves, "Secrets and Lies" (1996) is a staggering work of cinematic genius. It is truly a perfect film.

    Sep 2, 2009 | Rating: A+ | Full Review…
  • It's hard to argue against it being a sharply observant and deeply felt melodrama, one that is accessible, contemporary and frightingly realistic.

    May 7, 2006 | Rating: A | Full Review…
  • Leigh's script and direction pushes all the right emotional buttons without getting overly melodramatic.

    Sep 14, 2005 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Secrets & Lies

  • Mar 15, 2018
    Mike Leigh's steady direction is really impressive, and he creates a largely improvised family drama that surprises us with many nuances and for being so engaging, relying especially on two outstanding Oscar-nominated performances by Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Mar 13, 2014
    The reuniting of a long lost daughter with an unlikely mother is likely the strongest Mike Leigh film of them all. The character portrayals are brilliant and the script flows with the proper levels of emotion and surprising good humour.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Sep 13, 2013
    'Secrets & Lies' is a literary piece of original work in cinema, showcasing director-writer Mike Leigh's unrivaled style of storytelling, that is as much a human comedy as it is a high quality drama. I never knew of Mike Leigh's famous 'improvisation-acting' technique prior to watching this, and the more I look back, the more I realize that's what allowed me to fall in love with the film in the first place. We're faced with characters so natural and substantial, they could easily be people in our lives. They face completely human dramas, things like keeping secrets, coping with death and mediating between relatives who don't get along - and with these elements coming together perfectly, the story is told from beginning to end without needing to catch a breath. Every scenario tells us more about each character, each dilemma, and in doing so, allows us to care more how everything turns out. I've joked that there's enough content in 'Secrets & Lies' that it could've been a miniseries, but I'm glad it's this instead. I'm convinced this is Mike Leigh's masterpiece and it's definitely one of my favorite movies of all time.
    Diego T Super Reviewer
  • May 09, 2012
    What do you do when the baby you put up for adoption 25 years ago suddenly calls you out of the blue and wants to meet -- especially if you are not all that happy with your life at the moment. This movie takes us through that. What I found amazing is that I read that most of the lines were improv. The actors were given their roles, but no actual script.
    Red L Super Reviewer

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