After an early morning trip to the airport, Kat and Charlie are back home, with my in-laws in tow. As everyone attempts to recover from their jet lag - and at 13 months, Charlie doesn't know if it's day or night, the poor little guy - I managed to write up my thoughts on the last film of this year of review.
Our final contender for the 1996 Best Picture prize is...
Secrets and Lies
Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Phyllis Logan, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Claire Rushbrook
After her adopted mother passes away, London optometrist Hortense Cumberbatch (Jean-Baptiste) - probably not related to Benedict - decides to track down her birth mother. As a black woman, she is understandably surprised to discover that her mother is Cynthia Purley (Blethyn), a white woman who, despite a good heart, has the smarts and social graces of a small puppy. Cynthia and Hortense slowly develop a camaraderie but Cynthia baulks at introducing Hortense to her other daughter, Roxanne (Rushbrook), an ungrateful council worker. Eventually, however, Cynthia invites Hortense to a family gathering, hosted by her somewhat estranged brother, portrait photographer Maurice (Spall), and his wife Monica (Logan). It is at this soiree that the dysfunctional family's secrets and lies are finally exposed.
At first, Secrets and Lies comes across a little like a soap opera, and given the title, that's perhaps appropriate. The secrets and lies in this family are indeed of soap opera quality: life-changing and nothing less. But once you accept each character's predicament, the shades of soap opera fade away and you're left with quite an emotional ride. Writer/director Mike Leigh allows his audience to really absorb these people's lives by keeping an easy pace and often utilising lengthy and static shots in which the action (or mere dialogue, as the case may be) plays out in all its voyeuristic glory. The outdoor barbecue scene is particularly fascinating. There's tension, sure, which has been set up by the prior circumstances, but for the most part, the scene is just a seeming melange of very real and mundane conversations. It's captivating fly-on-the-wall stuff.
Peter Pettigrew, but I first noticed him in a sarcastically memorable guest role in BBC's sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf, clearly showing his comedic chops are on par with his dramatic ability. As a woman trying to get some answers, Marianne Jean-Baptiste is intelligent and vulnerable, earning herself a Best Supporting Actress nod in the process. And yes, that's Downton Abbey's Mrs. Hughes, Phyllis Logan, turning in a strong performance as Spall's uptight wife. Stealing the show, though, is Brenda Blethyn with a powerhouse portrayal that could so easily have fallen into caricature. Cynthia is larger than life, for sure, but Blethyn roots her in reality, wearing her emotions on her sleeve. Secrets and Lies also received nominations for Mike Leigh's direction and screenplay, but sadly, the film walked away without any Oscars at all.