Friday, May 27, 2011

Brenda Blethyn in Secrets & Lies

Brenda Blethyn received her first Oscar nomination for playing Cynthia Rose Purley, a lonely woman, full of disappointment and sorrow but who has some hope in her life thanks to her daughter whom she gave up years ago for adoption in Mike Leigh's movie, Secrets & Lies. I don't think that Brenda Blethyn was that far behind Frances McDormand. It's not that easy to find out who might have been the runners-up for the Oscar since I can imagine a very massive fanbase for Emily Watson but it was Brenda who was the critics' darling along with McDormand. I guess her Golden Globe helped her a lot and she was third at the very least but second is more likely.

Secrets & Lies is a terrific movie and I would probably even say that it's just perfect as it is. It's a really tough and very harrowing experience mostly because it's so incredibly realistic. It's so heartwrenching to see real people suffering and dealing with serious problems in life. The best thing about it is that the director had a really great sense of humor. This movie is not just depressing, it's a much more complex experience. I would say Timothy Spall was cheated out of that Oscar nomination (and probably even a win) for his astonishing performance as Maurice. Marianne Jean-Baptiste is excellent and deserved her nomination.

Brenda Blethyn is a great actress who we don't see as often as we should, really. She's really terrific but since a very successful period in Hollywood (and two Oscar noms), we haven't seen that much from her (that doesn't mean, though, that she doesn't give astonishing performances, just watch London River). Secrets & Lies was the movie that brought international recognition to this lesser known but incredibly talented actress. I guess her award at Cannes was the main breakthrough and then the Oscar nom was the icing on the cake (or was it the real breakthrough, I don't know). All in all, I think she could have easily won had she been a little bit more known.

Blethyn plays Cynthia Rose, a very lonely and bitter woman, full of regrets, pain and secrets. When Frances McDormand delivered her Oscar speech she said all of the nominees had the choice to portray rich, complex female characters. That is certainly the case with Brenda Blethyn whose instant and loud success with this performance is easily understandable as soon as you see it as she's brilliant as Cynthia Rose.

I guess it must be a bit off-putting for some that Blethyn is very over-the-top and almost exaggerated this character. Those incredibly loud, hysterical breakdowns might seem a bit to much but in fact, I feel that Blethyn found the perfect balanced and she was never too much for me. I guess, one has to have a taste for these kinds of performance and I am (I know) a bit snobbish about these things and Blethyn's work as Cynthia totally suits me.

In the beginning, we see a woman who's crying over her days of glory which may not have even existed. It's such a heart-breaking moment when she's holding her breasts as if she was younger andhad "great tits". Another example is when she's talking about her legs. She's wearing ugly slippers and she places her feet as if she was Sharon Stone. And yet she looks awful and doesn't care that much about herself. That's the beginning of Cynthia's journey and it gets just better and better. And Cynthia's loneliness is so close. I loved the scene where she hysterically grabs her brother and says that he's the only one she has.

The most interesting aspect of this character is that Cynthia doesn't always develop gradually. There are traumatic changes that really make her different. The first one is when her long lost daughter calls her on the phone and wants to meet her. It's really no wonder at all that it was her Oscar clip. It's an incredible and very emotional moment and again, heartbreaking. The way she's trembling, the way her mouth is twitching, the way she runs... all just unbelievable. There was so much emotional intensity there that as I was watching her, I felt my heart beating like hell.

However, Cynthia's relationship with Hortense, her daughter develops gradually and it's just wonderful to see the two ladies together. It's simply astonishing that they don't look like each other at all and they are not like each other at all and yet they are the perfect mother and daughter. It's wondeful.

The highlight of the whole movie is a long birthday party scene where all the secrets and lies are revealed and ALL of the actors excell, especially Blethyn and Timothy Spall. When Cynthia reveals the truth about Hortense to her family, it's a really shocking and heavy moment. It's really hard for the audience to deal with that scene emotionally and it took me a long time to find the real brilliance in it. Cynthia becomes as small and vulnerable as an old bird, and all thanks to the terrific Brenda Blethyn. When she sits the down and goes on eating her cake while being hysterical is just gutwrenching and is the work of a true genious.

Brenda is also fantastic in the scene of the reconciliation with her sister-in-law. Both are crying but they are holding each other and it's just a really terrific, magnificent moment. It's not a sentimental scene (oh no, God forbid) but it's quite tearjerking. It was amazing to see so many emotions almost blowing up the screen. Mark my words: amazing.

Yes, sometimes I get too carried away but I don't feel bad about it in this case because this is probably one of the finest performances I have ever seen in my life. It might be a little bit too much for many, I can accept that but not for me. This is a brutally realistic, terrifying, stunning achievement. The great director may have been very helpful to Brenda Blethyn but eventually, it's her incredible talent that makes this performance a very intense and wonderful experience, one that you don't easily forget. It stays in your guts.
What do you think? Who should be next (don't say Emily :D)?


Josep said...

Althought I think it was a bit over-the-top her nomination was totally deserved, but I prefer McDormand to win.
I want to know your opinion about Diane Keaton's perfomance, and do you think she was better than Meryl Streep in the movie?

dinasztie said...

OK Josep, than I'll do Keaton's review next. Last time I preferred Keaton of the two. I shouldn't hurry, though.

mrripley said...

Streep vs Keaton

I used to value Keaton too but when i rewatched it lately i feel Meryl has more of an arc or journey to play,Keaton doesn't change really, she is a nice person who suffers and that is it though she plays if wonderfully but sometimes she is a little too Keato-sih esp in her scenes with DeNiro and Aunt Ruth - a funny gwen verdon.

Streep is a little too calculated at the start of the film but as she witnesses her sister suffering she really grows,blossoms and changed from someone we don't like to someone who does at the end of the film you firmly believe that Streep will stay when Keaton dies.

dinasztie said...

I would very much like to discuss Brenda, I'll get to Meryl and Diane later.

Anonymous said...

Just saw it on TV the other today - she is still just as amazing.

dinasztie said...

Thanks Sage for talking about her! LOL :)