Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Movie scenes to make you sob: Cynthia & Co ...

SECRETS & LIES. 1996 and I am alone in a strange city, a few months after a bereavement. One afternoon after doing some business down town I pop into the cinema to see a current release, Mike Leigh's highly acclaimed SECRETS AND LIES, a Cannes Festival winner. I loved his early television films like ABIGAIL'S PARTY and NUTS IN MAY where Alison Steadman made her name. His new one though kept me transfixed as I laughed and cried along with Cynthia and her dysfunctional family... it was a really uplifting experience.

Cynthia is a working-class British woman whose life has been a long series of painful disappointments. She's single with no romantic prospects and a dead-end job at a box factory. Her daughter Roxanne works as a street sweeper and is chronically bitter. Cynthia helped raise her brother, Maurice who is doing well as a photographer, but she rarely sees him and blames his snooty wife, Monica. One day, Cynthia receives a phone call from a woman named Hortense, who claims to be the daughter Cynthia put up for adoption years ago. Cynthia initially reacts with panic, but she agrees to meet Hortense and is surprised to discover that she's a successful optomerist - and that she's black. Cynthia is soon convinced that Hortense is just who she claims to be, and they quickly form a friendship that gives Cynthia a new source of emotional strength. However, when Cynthia decides to introduce the family to her new "friend," it forces them to confront the lies and evasions that have kept them apart all these years. Largely improvised as usual by director Mike Leigh and his cast, SECRETS & LIES features standout work by Brenda Blethyn  (who earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (who was nominated as Best Supporting Actress), Timothy Spall and Phyllis Logan (now Mrs Hughes the housekeeper in DOWNTON ABBEY). Other Leigh regulars like Alison Steadman pop in briefly  ...
Blethyn's Cynthia is a marvellous creation who stays with one long after the film as one worries about her. Her scenes with her sullen daughter are both funny and affecting. and the scene where she meets Hortense at the cafe is priceless. Cynthia is sure she has never been with a black man, so how can she have a black daughter? Hortense though changes her outlook so now how to introduce her to her family? Spall is marvellous too (isn't he always?) and has that great emotional outburst at the climax as poor miserable Monica also reveals her secret. Leigh's recent and sadly-overlooked ANOTHER YEAR (2000s label) in 2010 affected me the same way and again will not easily be forgotten, particularly Lesley Manville. Imelda Staunton too of course delivered that powerhouse Oscar-nominated performance as Vera in Leigh's maybe too downbeat VERA DRAKE. Seek them out if you do not know them.

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