Skip to content

Secrets and Lies (1996): A Brief Commentary

A film about how everyone is in pain but cannot talk about it. Instead, we keep secrets and lie to others in order not to confront the source(s) of the pain.

In the context of the film, the lies and secrets centre around an adopted child, now a grown-up lady working as an optometrist, that seeks out her birth mother after the death of her adoptive mother. She, however, quickly hits a snag in her journey for reunification when she is forced to confront the probability that her mother is white — an unlikely proposition to her, though very well in the realm of possibility in spite of her being a young black woman.

Screen image of a scene from 'Secret and Lies' (1996).

Her birth mother on the other hand is dealing with her own pains, current as well as those that gnaw at her from her regretful past. Most notably is her concern that her young fatherless daughter, who is soon turning 21, might make the same mistake she did in her youth, i.e. having an unplanned pregnancy. Her other pains include a boredom that borders ennui, a clear lack of any intimate affection compounded by her pining over her lost beauty and, though somewhat muted, her first pregnancy that she gave away for adoption.

As such, a reunification is the last thing on her mind yet the possibility of it coming to light undoubtedly proffers to heal her wounds, as well as those of the rest of her family including: her daughter’s lack of motivation and hostility towards her, her brother’s marriage that has had to endure hardships for years on account of the wife being unable to bear a child and most poignantly, the grief of her long-lost daughter from losing her adoptive mother compounded by the apprehension that the search for her birth mother may end up in rejection and ultimately dejection.

Much like Vera Drake, another film by Leigh, this is a film with relatable characters in an equally relatable setting (the family) on how past choices ultimately shape the present regardless of how we morally view and judge such choices. More than anything, it’s a film that beseeches us, not so much to beware of choices that we may regret in the future, but rather to have the courage to share our secrets with those whom we love lest they fester into monstrous wounds that have to be soothed with more lies.

Originally written on: 22/08/2022

Film Details

Written & Directed by Mike Leigh
Country of Origin: UK
Language: English
Genre: Drama
Year: 1996
Full Details: IMDB


Nto Nkaabu

Films are at once windows and mirrors — portals into the individual consciousness of others that's normally outside our reach, and projections of our own consciousness — out in the open for us to confront.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *