Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
France/United Kingdom, 1996. Channel Four Films, CiBy 2000, Thin Man Films. Screenplay by Mike Leigh. Cinematography by Dick Pope. Produced by Simon Channing Williams. Music by Andrew Dickson. Production Design by Alison Chitty. Costume Design by Maria Price. Film Editing by Jon Gregory. Academy Awards 1996. Boston Film Critics Awards 1996. Cannes Film Festival 1996. Golden Globe Awards 1996. Independent Spirit Awards 1996. National Board of Review Awards 1996.
Working from a script Mike Leigh wrote based on his performers’ improvisational work in rehearsals, actors Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste come as close to true-to-life acting as can be expected; you might sometimes feel like you’re watching a documentary. Blethyn plays Cynthia, an aging, working-class white woman who is found by Hortense (Jean-Baptiste), the black daughter she had given up for adoption at birth years before. Unlike the usual murky British kitchen-sink dramas, this one has warmth, talent and beauty to the nth degree, plus a fantastic supporting cast with stories of their own: Cynthia’s brother and sister-in-law (Timothy Spall, Phyllis Logan) can’t have children, and Cynthia’s daughter Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook) is unhappy and resentful about everything that’s going on, especially with her birthday coming up. It all comes out in a climactic, all-stops-out, tear-inducing dinner scene in the third act. Lesley Manville is terrific as the social worker who helps Hortense find her mother.