129 user 66 critic

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 & 37 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Emma Amos ...
Girl with Scar
Brian Bovell ...
Hortense's Brothers
Trevor Laird ...
Hortense's Brothers
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?


Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider. 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 »


[last lines]
Cynthia Purley: Oh, this is the life, ain't it?
RoxanneHortense Cumerbatch: Yeah.
See more »


Referenced in Younger: Secrets & Liza (2016) 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

Honesty & Integrity
3 June 2004 | by (United States) – 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!!!

58 of 65 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

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