Adopted Kids and Inheritance

Mike Leigh, director of Secrets and Lies is not here to clarify what prompted his 1996 film, but I suspect that it was family inheritance and the adopted child.

There are thousands of adopted children who are fortunate enough to find loving homes where they are given the same education and opportunities as the natural children of their adoptive parents. 
A will is a useful piece of paper because it states who gets what after a parent’s death.  What if there is no will?  Do natural children suddenly remember that Ursula is not their sister?
Hortense, played fluidly by Marianne Jean-Baptiste is a black optometrist who was adopted by a British black family.  Her adoptive mother dies.   One day she overhears her brothers fighting over the family home.  That is when she decides to take advantage of the United Kingdom’s adoption laws that allow adopted children to know who carried them in the womb.
Canada basically has the same laws.  A birth parent in Ontario can start the process of finding the child after 19 years, and adopted children should be 18 before they start looking for their history.  British Columbia has something similar in its Adoption Act, so do most Canadian provinces.

Hortense Cumberpatch finds her mother with the help of a social worker.  What baffles her is that her mother is white.  The social worker says everything she needs to know is in the file.  Her mother turns up to be Cynthia Purley (Brenda Blethyn), a working class white woman who is emotionally traumatized by Roxanne, her daughter (Claire Rushbrook).

Secrets and Lies is a complex film for many reasons.  First of all, Cynthia Purley is very condescending initially. 

She tells Hortense that she couldn’t possibly be her mother.  Does this mean that she has forgotten that she gave up a black child for adoption?
She finally remembers that she did and mother and daughter meet from time to time, but they are worlds apart. 

Hortense is quiet spoken and confident.  Cynthia is a bag of rattling emotions, thanks to Roxanne.

The film’s complexity also comes from Hortense’s father.  He is black because she doesn’t look like the mother at all, but Cynthia refuses to reveal his identity.  There’s a painful scene minutes before the end of the film where Cynthia remembers Roxanne’s father with stars in her eyes. 

How about my father says Hortense.  Cynthia kept on saying ‘no darling.’  The film ends a few minutes later.  Cynthia never told her.  She never did. Strange film.

Fights about family property after the death of parents prompted Hortense to look for her mother.  It is only adoptive children who know why they embark on this journey.  They never know what they will find at the end of the road, but are willing to take the risk.


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