After the relentlessly bleak Naked, Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies (15, Film Four, available to rent from 20 Jan) is a relief, with the director's trenchant realism this time tempered by rich compassion and humour. It begins with Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a young, middle- class optometrist who goes in search of her blood mother upon the death of her adoptive parents - little realising just how messily complex her extended family really is. The film proves, once again, Leigh's particular talent for capturing the myriad tics of the British class system and, by probing the emotional stratum of familial relationships, revealing the pathos behind apparently humdrum lives. As ever, Leigh's improvisational techniques yield authentic performances and none more affecting than Brenda Blethyn's lonely Cynthia, all vulnerable bare legs, fags and nights in with the bottle. Quite rightly, Blethyn won Best Actress at Cannes for the role of the quivering housewife, whose neediness is manifested in a kind of benign Tourettes as she miserably "Sweet'arts" her way through life. Altogether, a wonderful movie.
Also worth renting this week are The Truth About Cats and Dogs (15, Fox Guild, from 20 Jan) and Mission Impossible (PG, CIC, on release). One a weakly feminist version of Cyrano de Bergerac, the other a ripping, hi-tech spy yarn starring Tom Cruise (no prizes for guessing which is which). Directed by Michael Lehmann, the best thing about Cats and Dogs is Janeane Garofolo's dumpy pet-therapist who plays the foil to the willowy and effortlessly glamorous Noelle (Uma Thurman, above). Sadly, after a promising start, Lehmann's romantic comedy turns to goo. While Garofolo starts the film wisecracking, she ends up being pulled towards her lover on a pair of roller-skates by a big dog.
For a really classy romantic comedy (with some of the best music and dance routines ever to hit the screen thrown in), you'd do better to fork out for Top Hat (U, 4Front pounds 5.99). Irving Berlin, Fred and Ginger and this week's must-buy retail release.