Secrets & Lies (1996)

R  |   |  Drama  |  28 February 1997 (USA)
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Ratings: 8.0/10 from 27,139 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?


To add a spontaneous effect to the performances, Mike Leigh met with each actor individually and only told them what their character would know at the beginning of the film. As filming progressed the actors were hearing the secrets for the very first time. Brenda Blethyn, for instance, didn't know that Marianne Jean-Baptiste was black. 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: I can still turn a few heads...
Roxanne: ...and a few stomachs!
See more »


Referenced in Retired at 35: Secrets and Lies (2011) 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

Top 5 Film Class Movies: FILM #5
25 July 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

In honor of my film class wrapping up this week, I will be counting down my top five favorite films we have watched for class. I begin with my #5 choice, Secrets and Lies, a Mike Leigh drama/comedy about the secrets and lies (shock) that tear apart a dysfunctional British family. Brenda Blethyn plays Cynthia Purley, the very dramatic and always crying single mother who is one day contacted by the daughter she gave up for adoption…who happens to be black. The look on Blethyn's face is priceless as she flashes back to a one night stand she had as a young lady.

Most would think Leigh's story would revolve around race relations, which is not the case at all (race is never an issue). Instead he revolves his story around the Purley family, a unit so torn apart from over the years that a simple family cook out turns into a soap opera. "Secrets and lies! We're all in pain! Why can't we share our pain? I've spent my entire life trying to make people happy, and the three people I love the most in the world hate each other's guts, and I'm in the middle! I can't take it anymore!" This memorable quote comes from Maurice Purley, brother to Cynthia and talented photographer. Maurice is your classic good guy, the passive patriarch who always tries to hold the family together. (The irony around his character is that he cannot conceive a child with his wife, Monica). You almost feel sorry for the successful Hortense, as if she would be better off not knowing her birth mother at all.

The actors are so talented in this film that Leigh, at times, uses no cuts during a scene. The camera stays in one spot as the actors' play out scenes that can last 10-15 minutes. After you get past the difficult British dialect (you may want to use captions while watching), you will feel as if you are that nosey neighbor who can't help but listen and enjoy the problems this family confronts…and that's no lie.

27 of 40 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Recent Posts
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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