My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress 1996: Brenda Blethyn in "Secrets and Lies"

In Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies, we are shown two very different worlds: one belongs to the character of Cynthia, who works in a fabric, has a daughter who sweeps the streets and lives a lonely and depressing life at the lower end of the lower class. The other world belongs to Hortense, a young black woman who is a successful optometrist and lives a comfortable life that contrasts sharply with that of Cynthia. But very soon the paths of these two different women meet and change their lives forever.

Secrets and Lies starts rather depressing: with a funeral. The sad face of Hortense and the big floral wreath saying “Mum” immediately tells us everything we need to know. A little later, we are also introduced to the character of Cynthia. We see her working in a fabric and the look on her face shows what she confirms later: that her work pays the rent, nothing more. The next scene in her little house with her daughter enforces our impression of Cynthia and her daughter: they are basically British white-trash. Cynthia argues with her daughter who says that she didn’t ask to be born while Cynthia answers that she didn’t ask to have her either.

While we see that Cynthia is not very educated or refined, Brenda Blethyn wonderfully demonstrates that she it not average white-trash. Unlike her daughter she doesn’t swear, misbehave or act aggressively. Rather, Cynthia is a lonely, needy character, full of self-pity and sorrow about her life and her past and probably her future, too. She has barely any contact to her brother and his wife, her daughter mostly avoids her – we see that Cynthia is a woman who is longing for security and companion. She is the kind of character that the viewer would like to hug and comfort because the loneliness and sadness that she displays in almost every second of her life is heartbreaking in it’s simplicity and effectiveness.

While Brenda Blethyn starts her performance a little annoying, she very soon deepens the character of Cynthia and shows that beneath that quirky, squeaky woman lies an unhappy soul with a dark past and no hope for the future. Her breakdown during a seldom visit of her brother is an incredibly moving moment and Brenda Blethyn excellently rises to the highest acting challenges. To see how this already suffering woman has to stand so many blows of fate is like watching an already starving puppy being kicked in the head.

In another scene with her daughter, we see how she is admiring her legs. It’s not clear if she does that because she is thinking of a past when she could turn all the men’s heads with her legs or simply because she got nothing else to admire or maybe even only to make some conversation with her daughter. Brenda Blethyn never simplifies Cynthia even though she seems like such an exaggerated, stereotypical character at first. She always keeps talking about things nobody wants to hear, she doesn’t know when to stop or when it would be better to say nothing at all. Brenda Blethyn makes Cynthia an almost impossible to bear character but she is also able to captivate the audience with this. Brenda Blethyn never uses Cynthia’s sadness to make the character more appealing.

The real highpoints of her performance come when Hortense suddenly enters her life. Cynthia may have always thought about the little baby she gave up for adoption but when Hortense calls her on the phone and tells her that she is her daughter, it is an unimaginable shock for Cynthia. The way Brenda Blethyn is able to show this shock and her fear is exceptional. Out of nowhere her past has caught up with her.

Even more impressing is that famous, one-take scene when Cynthia realizes that, yes, she is the mother of this black woman. She never saw the baby after the birth and apparently she also never saw the father – it’s not made clear if she was raped by a man she couldn’t see but Cynthia’s crying scenes of remembrance seem to indicate that something terrible must have happened to her. In these scenes, Brenda Blethyn is breathtaking in her ability to show a towering amount of emotions. After her initial shock, Cynthia starts to warm up to Hortense and we see that she can find a lot of pride in the fact that her own daughter was able to live such a well-off life and turned out to be such a bright and intelligent woman.

Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean Baptiste have wonderful chemistry together and are perfectly able to demonstrate how Cynthia and Hortense grow fond of each other, how they start to build their relationship as mother and daughter and Brenda Blethyn is particularly wonderful in showing how suddenly joy and happiness enter her life.

Even though she is sometimes a little too exaggerated and over-the-top, Brenda Blethyn nonetheless gives an extremely moving, perfectly executed performance that gets


Anonymous said...

Glad you like her...I'm all gaga over her :]

joe burns said...

She was great, but I probably liked Mcdormand better.