SECRETS & LIES
1996, Janus Films, 136 min, UK/France, Dir: Mike Leigh

After the death of her adoptive parents, black middle-class Londoner Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is shocked to discover that her birth mother is white working-class Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn), a hard-drinking disaster completely at odds with the professional success of her estranged daughter. Blethyn and Jean-Baptiste are marvels as their characters learn how to relate to one another amidst the tumult of Cynthia’s own extended family life. Navigating the chaos and catharsis of fraying and reconfigured family ties, this winner of the 1996 Palme d’Or at Cannes (Blethyn also won for Best Actress) is a testament to the constant surprises that life sends our way. With Timothy Spall and Phyllis Logan.


MEANTIME
1984, Janus Films, 102 min, UK, Dir: Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh’s slow-burning depiction of economic degradation in Thatcher’s England is the culmination of the writer-director’s pioneering work in television. Unemployment is rampant in London’s working-class East End, where a middle-aged couple and their two sons languish in a claustrophobic public-housing flat. As the brothers (Phil Daniels and Tim Roth) grow increasingly disaffected, Leigh punctuates the grinding boredom of their daily existence with tense encounters, including with a priggish aunt (Marion Bailey) who has managed to become middle-class and a blithering skinhead on the verge of psychosis (a scene-stealing Gary Oldman, in his first major role). Informed by Leigh’s now-trademark improvisational process and propelled by the lurching rhythms of its Beckett-like dialogue, MEANTIME is an unrelenting, often blisteringly funny look at life on the dole.


NAKED
1993, Park Circus, 132 min, UK, Dir: Mike Leigh

David Thewlis delivers a bravura performance as Johnny, a nicotine-addled, paranoid tramp who wanders the streets of Manchester and London haranguing strangers, searching for cheap sex and traumatizing the few loved ones from his past who still care about him. With its creative genesis arising from the cast’s improvisations, NAKED is a startling exploration of self-destructive toxic male vitriol tempered by Leigh’s consummate humanism. Winner of the 1993 Best Director and Best Actor prizes at the Cannes Film Festival. “This is a painful movie to watch. But it is also exhilarating, as all good movies are, because we are watching the director and actors venturing beyond any conventional idea of what a modern movie can be about.” - Roger Ebert


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