Secrets & Lies (1996)

R  |   |  Drama  |  28 February 1997 (USA)
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Ratings: 8.0/10 from 27,133 users   Metascore: 91/100
Reviews: 126 user | 66 critic | 27 from

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



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Nominated for 5 Oscars. Another 33 wins & 34 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Michele Austin ...
Emma Amos ...
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:

$60,813 (USA) (27 September 1996)


$13,417,292 (USA) (16 May 1997)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Mike Leigh and Brenda Blethyn were both born on February 20th. Mike is exactly 3 years older than her. 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: But sweetheart, I can't be your mother!
Hortense Cumerbatch: Why not?
Cynthia Purley: Well... look at me!
See more »


Referenced in Let There Be Light (1998) 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
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

A great layering of memorable characters
30 October 1999 | by (Orlando, Florida, USA) – See all my reviews

It took a second viewing of Mike Leigh's 'Secrets and Lies' to reveal the depth of its genius. I love character-driven drama, and this film succeeds in creating indelible portraits. Even the social worker is quirky and memorable instead of just furthering the plot and being patently sympathetic.

I could write quite a lot about Blethyn's riveting performance. How drained she must have been after sustaining a character who seems always at the height of emotional pressure. Opposite her, Jean-Baptiste seemed as cool and smooth as could be. The contrasts created by these personae even extended to costume and decor.

I decided to watch this movie again because after a BBC Shakespeare binge I wanted to see everything Ron Cook has been in. And while the Stuart scene is really somewhat incongruous to the rest of the family plot, Cook's scene as the bitter, drunk 't****r' works for me perfectly. So do the scenes of photo sessions -- and it's a matter of observing this film in terms of clarity of personal vision. The occupations of photographer and optometrist seem to lend metaphors of spirituality -- for Maurice, the ability to see people as they are, and for Hortense, the ability to understand how others see the world. The wall of smoke that Cynthia and Roxanne seem to keep in front of them. The disparity between the images created for the formal portraits and the truth of the personalities in them. In a distinctly un-sappy way, Leigh has explored the old adage that "the truth will set you free."

If one reads a paragraph describing the main plot -- the adopted child seeking out her birth mother -- a very clear idea of a movie-of-the-week story comes to mind. 'Secrets and Lies' is nothing like that, and shows a mastery of vision and a cast of great talent. My roommate agreed, saying he thought this was one of the best films he's seen this decade.

77 of 83 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Did Anyone Like Monica? AzaleaRose
Hortence's Father lps_darlo
Hortense's wardrobe cyweyman
Hortense is supposed to be mixed race??? markcody
Secrets and Lies is a poor film...worst film I've seen. willywonka-3
How Could She Not Know Patty-76
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