Mike Leigh was my first introduction to art house cinema, or non commercial cinema. My school mate Aaron had an older brother and he was pretty much the coolest dude ever, he was the trendsetting hipster before hipsters became cool. He was up on the latest trends, read the cool American mags, smoked the coolest cigs and generally gave Aaron all the cool things to do. Aaron shared with us and we became the cool kids, hot damn, we were icy cool, we dressed like Bros and smoked bucket bongs hahaha. Anyway, Aaron, via his brother introduced me to Mike Leigh’s NAKED. And it was this film that showed me something that wasn’t a blockbuster, I was astounded, in another world and I had to think, it cleared out some neural pathways clogged with THC and I fell in love with art house cinema, hell, to me, it was foreign film, it introduced me to everything non mainstream, which was where my life was, from here I saw a film with gays in it, A BEAUTIFUL THING, and knew I could eventually come out and find happiness, and then I got to see SECRETS & LIES, still to this day I remember this film clearly, a true masterpiece of character driven cinema. It is out now, 18yrs later on DVD and thanks to our uber awesome friends at Madman we have three copies up for grabs. Relive it or discover it, enjoy the amazement of Mike Leigh again. Find out how to win after Kernel Andrew’s deservedly gush review…….all the best…….JK. 





SECRETS & LIES, released in 1996, is a perfect candidate for anyone unfamiliar with the work of Mike Leigh. It for me is my favourite of his works made even more intriguing when you understand more about his “famous” method of devising his screenplays. Leigh values actors and their contributions to a living breathing script and so he involves them quite heavily in the process. Apparently he imagines characters first and then situations to place those characters in, there is no narrative yet. Then along with the actors he schedules workshops where the dialogue and linking plots between the situations begin to form and create the films narrative. It really gives his scripts a real sense of life and precision. So much so the other Leigh method of using long unbroken shots enables the actor to live situationaly in the roles that by now they are more than familiar with.




Leigh’s characters (or should I say the collaboration between the actor and Leigh) are never caricatures and there is a deep sense of compassion in his attitudes towards them. One of my favourite performances in a Leigh movie is Brenda Blethyn’s performance in SECRETS AND LIES. She masterfully plays Cynthia Purley, a factory worker, who lives a discontented life in her row house in a low-income housing estate. A house, in which she was born, raised and now resides. She shares this house with Roxeanne (Claire Rushbrook), her twenty-something daughter. Their relationship is filled with long silences, arguments and tensions (made the more real due to the care of the method I believe). Both have allowed the sadness of their lot in life to envelop them. There is something, it seems, that Cynthia has been worrying about, some secret. She doesn’t breathe a word of it to anyone. But it permeates every scene we see her in.

Out of the blue she receives a phone call from Hortense Cumberbatch (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), who Cynthia bore out-of-wedlock at sixteen and gave up for adoption, as was necessary at that stage of England’s social life. Hortense is a black woman, also in her late 20s. She is a successful optometrist who had a loving upbringing with her adoptive parents. Her adopted mother has passed away and this has triggered a need to seek out her birth mother. Cynthia’s painful secret referenced earlier has now resurfaced and it threatens to upturn everybody’s lives. There are two others that know it. Her younger brother, Maurice (Timothy Spall), and his wife, Monica (Phyllis Logan).




Hortense and Cynthia’s first meeting is fraught with tension. Cynthia attempts to convince Hortense that she is really not her child. She references their skin colours “There’s been some mistake, sweetheart. Why, look at me.” she exclaims. This scene is transfixing, lending itself to Leigh’s unbroken camera technique and the actors deep investitures in their roles. That line is delivered with a lifetime of pain and regret as well as something else.  The way the two women play this scene is fascinating. They’re acting in real-time, creating a new relationship on the spot. Full credit to them both and once again to Leigh’s magical “method”. This is also the trigger for a linking narrative of a mother and daughter bonding after a lifetime apart.

On the other side Leigh intercut another narrative, that of Maurice and Monica, cold and passively aggressive towards each other. Maurice and Monica, who live in a spacious new house look down on those around them and generally are also miserable. They hardly ever see his sister and her daughter. But this changes with an announcement that they will be hosting Roxanne’s 21st birthday. Cynthia asks Maurice if she can bring “a mate from work.” This will be Hortense, who is reluctant to attend a family function where there might be difficulties.




Here there is another delicious Leigh unbroken take, focused on a crowded picnic table in Maurice’s backyard, as the guests uneasily settle down. The tension is palpable, and not only because of the unexplained Hortense. Cynthia, who brought up Maurice as her “little brother,” hates Monica, and the feeling is returned. Roxanne doesn’t like Maurice. Paul (Lee Ross), Roxanne’s boyfriend, has little dialogue but plays this scene perfectly. If you watch him closely he is terrified of the women and the barely invisible tension. Just when you think the tension can’t get any more palpable Cynthia drops the bombshell: Hortense is her daughter.

Giving nothing away from this point on how this is handled is a true cinematic achievement. It links all the narratives, characters and film title in a powerful, heartbreaking yet ultimately life affirming way. The shock of the announcement spreads through the room, jarring loose other family secrets and lies.

This is a perfect scene to illustrate the true power of Leigh’s method. Everything is done with a looseness but also absolute precision. Every camera setup, every close-up, the size and timing of every close-up, the editing of the whole, works to unfold the scene powerfully. There is enough in this scene to make a whole movie. Due to the detailed character study and workshopping the characters work as a complete ensemble – it really is masterful. Nothing here seems forced or arbitrary. One of Leigh’s favourite devices is to contrive some sort of party, dinner or gathering in which all the story strands emerge, sometimes with great inconvenience.

I could write more but I think I have convinced you enough hopefully. The kind of fascination Mike Leigh generates is unlike almost anything else in the cinema, because it takes such chances, goes so deeply, explores the human comedy for its tears.


5 Pops


With special thanks to MADMAN FILMS to win one of the 3X DVDs of SECRETS AND LIES you need to either like and share this post on Facebook or retweet/ favourite it on Twitter, you then need to leave a comment below stating the answer to the following question:

What is your favourite British movie and why?  Mine would be 2001 – no competition although A CLOCKWORK ORANGE comes damn close.

If you do not have Facebook and Twitter then get with the times old-timer haha – You can still enter, leave your entry below and email me at telling me you don’t have social media (you still need to enter on the website).

Prizes will no longer be awarded to first in first served. It will now be a game of skill and selected purely on the thoughts of the judges, said judges being the Salty Kernels.

The prizes will be sent in the next week. Good luck! Oh, and minor housekeeping – huge apologies for overseas readers, this competition is only available to Australian residents.



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