Secrets & Lies
After half a decade of uneasy competition, the Hollywood establishment finally surrendered to the surge in independent movies in 1997, when Miramax's The English Patient won the Oscar for Best Picture, leading a slate of winners and nominees from outside the American mainstream that year, including Shine, Sling Blade, Breaking the Waves, Lone Star, Trainspotting, and British director Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies which earned nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (Brenda Blethyn), and Best Supporting Actress (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) after winning the Cannes Film Festival's Palm d'Or a year earlier. Leigh first broke into American art houses in the late 1980s with the eccentric dramedy High Hopes, and by the time his next film, 1990's equally bracing Life is Sweet, was crawling up the end-of-the-year Top 10 lists, he was firmly established as the critical darling of British cinema. His improvisational approach found the perfect muse in the ups and downs of working class England, and his unconventional 1993 feature Naked earned him a Best Director award at the Cannes Festival, poising him to ride the impending wave of indie acceptance with his next movie. Leigh aficionados may quibble over whether Secrets & Lies deserved its fortune over his three previous films, but it doubtless showcases his particular strengths. Timothy Spall stars as Maurice, a successful portrait photographer unhappily mired in a shepherd's pie of unspoken resentments cooked up by his disapproving wife Monica (Phyllis Logan) and his miserable older sister Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn). With class tensions already exacerbating family strife, the introduction of Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) as a surprise addition to the clan puts a magnifying glass to the sweltering discontent. While Leigh's plots often sound soapish in summary, they are typically executed with an exacting balance between dry wit, broad eccentricity, and wrenchingly realistic pain. Leigh elicits yet another handful of exquisite performances from his ensemble, from Blethyn's hyperventilating scene-stealing to Spall's quiet anguish. A little too long at 142 minutes, Secrets & Lies is nevertheless an acute, funny, and moving family drama, and a worthy chapter in this great director's oeuvre. Also with Claire Rushbrook. Fox presents the film in a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Trailers, keep-case.