Secrets & Lies
Writer-director Mike Leigh reached new levels of expressive power and intricacy in his ongoing contemplation of unembellished humanity with this resonant exploration of the deceptions, small and large, that shape our relationships to those we love. When Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a Black optometrist who was adopted as a child, begins the search for her birth mother, she doesn’t expect that it will lead her to Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn, winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s best actress award), a desperately lonely white factory worker whose tentative embrace of her long-lost daughter sends shock waves through the rest of her already fragile family. Born from a painstaking process of rehearsal and improvisation with a powerhouse ensemble cast, Secrets & Lies is a Palme d’Or–winning tour de force of sustained tension and catharsis that lays bare the emotional fault lines running beneath the surface of everyday lives.
Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies gets a new Blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode is sourced from a new 2K restoration, which in turn comes from a scan of the 35mm original negative.
Though I can’t say anything sticks out about the presentation, good or bad, it is a lovely looking one in the end. The restoration has cleaned things up nicely, with no serious flaws popping up (nor minor ones for that matter) and details look sharp and clean. The film is encoded nicely, and grain is rendered cleanly. No digital artifacts of note pop up.
There is a warm, green-ish hue to the picture, though I didn’t find it overbearing in anyway; it’s there but doesn’t impact black levels and whites still have a white look. I can’t recall how the film looked on previous home video releases, but the look does suit the general mood of the film so I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it is indeed intentional. Whatever the case on that latter point, the image still looks clean with a sharp photographic look and I was more than pleased with it.
The disc includes a DTS-HD MA 2.0 surround soundtrack. The film is dialogue heavy, of which sticks to the fronts, and it sounds clear and sharp. Music only pops up during transitions (as I recall anyways), but it ends up filling out the environment nicely, and street effects and such are also spread out. It’s not an overly showy mix by any means, but it’s sharp, clean, clear, and effective.
Criterion throws in a few supplements for this release, and though it may not look like much the material does an incredible job digging into the film's making.
From the archives Criterion digs up a 1996 audio-interview between Leigh and film critic Michel Ciment. Running 88-minutes and playing over a still from the film, the two talk about the development of the film and its characters, Leigh even referencing a number of his other films for comparison (Life is Sweet and Naked coming up most), while also touching on the research he puts into his work. He explains why he chose for the film to focus on the one family and not delve more into the Hortense’s family, goes over the reasoning behind subplots that aren’t directly related to the driving story, and even talks about why he was against the film’s title. It’s lengthy, and the audio can be hard to hear in spots, but it offers an incredibly extensive look into Leigh’s creative process.
Criterion then includes two new interview segments, both over Zoom, the first between Leigh and composer Gary Yershon, the second between actor Marianne Jean-Baptiste and film critic Corrina Antrobus. Both reflect on the making of the film, though from fairly different perspectives. Leigh touches on similar topics touched on in the Ciment interview, though expands on the research he did around the film and then the two additional storylines (the woman with the scar and the previous owner of the photography shop), explaining how the financiers wanted those subplots cut. Interestingly, they also wanted the scenes between Hortense and her friend cut, but Leigh fought hard to keep all of these sequences in. Both interviews also touch on the improvisations and rehearsals that helped to develop the characters and story (amusingly, Brenda Blethyn and Jean-Baptiste hadn’t met before improvising their first meeting), along with the film’s success, while Jean-Baptiste shares additional details around her character that didn’t make it into the film. Both are terrific reflections, running less than 30-minutes each.
The disc then closes with the film’s trailer and the included insert features an essay on the film, written by Ashley Clark, looking at in relation to Leigh’s other work and how it handles Hortense’s experience. It makes up for the lack of other academic material though an interview of some sort would have been beneficial.
Not stacked in the end (somewhat of a surprise considering its success) but the interviews delve deeply into everything that went into developing the story and characters.
The disc sports a nice-looking presentation while its features exhaustively covering the film’s development and Mike Leigh’s creative process.