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Long time fans of English director Mike Leigh may find his newest film surprisingly tender, even sentimental, in light of the quietly despairing LIFE IS SWEET or the almost unbearably bitter NAKED. But this portrait of a family in disarray is no less aware
than those films of the frightful messes people make of their lives. It's just a little more hopeful, and that may win Leigh the broader audience he so richly deserves. Leigh, who develops dialogue and story in close collaboration with his cast, is particularly skilled at drawing subtle, complex
performances from actresses, and Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste deliver characterizations that are nothing short of astonishing. Blethyn is the blowsy Cynthia, a common, middle-aged drab so determined to keep her embittered daughter (Claire Rushbrook) from making the same mistakes she
did that she's driving the girl crazy. Her shock when the educated, well-spoken Hortense (Jean-Baptiste) calls up to say she's Cynthia's other daughter -- the one she gave up for adoption at birth -- is nothing compared to the moment when they meet face-to-face and she sees that Hortense is black.
But their reunion is colored by much more than race, and over the space of two hours and 10 minutes we're made privy to all of it. A radiant, heartbreaking film.