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Secrets & Lies (1996)

R | | Drama | 28 February 1997 (USA)
0:31 | Trailer

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A successful black woman discovers that her birth mother is a underprivileged white woman, but the woman denies it. As emotions run high, everyone's secrets are exposed.



Nominated for 5 Oscars. Another 33 wins & 41 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Social Worker
Girl with Scar
Brian Bovell ...
Hortense's Brother
Trevor Laird ...
Hortense's Brother
Clare Perkins ...
Hortense's Sister-in-Law
Elias Perkins McCook ...
Hortense's Nephew


Cynthia lives in London with her sullen street-sweeper daughter. Her brother has been successful with his photographer's business and now lives nearby in a more upmarket house. But Cynthia hasn't even been invited round there after a year. So, all round, she feels rather lonely and isolated. Meanwhile, in another part of town, Hortense, adopted at birth but now grown up, starts to try and trace her mother. Written by Jeremy Perkins {J-26}

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Roxanne drives her mother crazy. Maurice never speaks to his niece. Cynthia has a shock for her family. Monica can't talk to her husband. Hortense has never met her mother.



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:







Release Date:

28 February 1997 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Secrets & Lies  »


Box Office


$4,500,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$60,813, 29 September 1996, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$13,417,292, 18 May 1997
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Most of the script was improvised. Writer/director Mike Leigh told each of the actors what his/her part in the story was and they each developed their own characters. See more »


A statement of Hortense's suggests that her family comes from Barbados, and a stamp on a letter among her adoptive mother's papers is almost identifiable as Barbadian on my DVD, but when she puts on a West Indian accent in one scene, apparently imitating her mother, it sounds like broad Jamaican or generic "West Indian", certainly not Bajan, which is a very distinctive accent. See more »


Cynthia Purley: Where's this food, then? I'm ravishin'.
[Hortense laughs]
Cynthia Purley: What?
[Hortense chuckles]
See more »


Referenced in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Secrets & Flies (2005) See more »


Happy Birthday to You
Words by Patty S. Hill & Mildred J. Hill (as Mildred Hill)
© Keith Prowse Music Pub Co. Ltd./EMI
Sung by the family at Hortense's birthday party
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

So Brilliant
27 March 2004 | by See all my reviews

I wish the USA had a director like Mike Leigh. His movies are amazing. "Secrets & Lies" traces the pain we often hold inside along with our secrets and the catharsis that can come by revealing them. Lives of quiet desperation within a family gradually find healing in this movie about adoption, children and the walls we build around ourselves for protection. There is a poignant metaphor in the brother Morris' career as a photographer, as his subjects attempt to cover the stories in their faces long enough to smile for the camera. This is an intense movie but it is not without beauty and hope.

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