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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?


The only film that year to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, but not at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards. See more »


When Roxanne pushes Cynthia onto the bed, the shadow of a crew member's head is seen moving on the bed. 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 Charmed: Secrets and Guys (1999) 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

Honesty & Integrity
3 June 2004 | by See all my reviews

This is one of my very favorite movies of the last 10, even 20 years. For me, its greatness lies in the resonance of the story lines, the brilliant acting, (Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Timothy Spall all turned in Oscar-worthy turns, and the rest of the ensemble were all with them), and Mike Leigh's direction.

This is a feast of tremendous acting, by a most talented ensemble who really become their characters. The scenes play out very naturally, and you really feel a part of the story, with special empathy towards - in no particular order - Cynthia, Maurice and Hortense. As the film builds towards a showdown/climax at the birthday party, you can even take a step back and at least sympathize with Roxanne and even, Monica.

This rates 10/10 by this reviewer, who wishes that more directors - if they truly have a good story to tell - will shoot and edit the film in a way that appreciates the audience's intelligence and capacity to feel without being manipulated by a director's avant-garde(??) bag of tricks ...for comparison, perhaps see my scathing review of 21 Grams! What a contrast of styles!!!

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