Whispers and Lies

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Sun Oct 6 12:20:44 MDT 1996

I recommend Mike Leigh's new film "Whispers and Lies" most
strongly. This is the powerfully affecting story of a mother who is
reunited with the daughter she gave up for adoption the day she was
born. The mother is white and the daughter is mulatto, the result of a
brief affair she had at age 15.

But the film is not primarily about race, it is about class. It turns out
that the daughter Hortense is a successful, college-educated
optometrist while the long-lost mother Cynthia is a hysterical, chain-
smoking factory worker. The daughter who lives with her is the result
of another affair. This girl is a sullen street-sweeper employed by the
Council who is constantly rebuking her mother for one petty offense or

The other major characters are Cynthia's successful brother, a
photographer, and his wife who is familiar to anybody who has seen a
Mike Leigh movie before. She is frustrated and acquisitive. To
substitute for the love that is missing in her marriage, she dwells in the
world of home decor and consumer goods.

All of the characters except Hortense are completely dysfunctional.
She by contrast is plucky, self-assured and forthright. Everybody else
lives in the middle of "whispers and lies". The movie concludes with a
cathartic reconciliation between all the major characters, which is
much more upbeat than anything than I've seen in a Mike Leigh
movie. For a perceptive study of the various injuries of the class
system, check this film out.


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