“Hidden in each one of us is a secret person, often unknown even to ourselves. The force of circumstances can drive us to a point at which this inner character takes charge and alters the course of our lives.”
In 1930, Maria Brentano (Valentina Cortese) and her younger sister Nora (Audrey Heburn) arrived in London, having fled their home after their father was captured by the country’s dictator.
Seven years later, their father is dead and the girls are still living in London. They had hoped to be reunited with their father someday, but he was executed.
On a trip to Paris with their guardian, the girls encounter a man from their past: Louis (Serge Reggiani), Maria’s childhood sweetheart.
At first Maria is elated to be reunited with Louis, but her feelings change when she learns of a dangerous plot he’s involved in, targeting the very dictator that killed her father.
Secret People was directed by Thorold Dickinson. Dickinson wrote the screenplay along with Wolfgang Wilhelm, with additional dialogue by Christianna Brand.
Earlier this year, I reviewed a film called The House on Telegraph Hill, starring Valentina Cortese. I loved her performance there, and she’s equally impressive in Secret People.
The viewer really roots for Maria’s happiness, after all she’s been through. The tone of the film progressively darkens, though, after she reunited with her old flame Louis, who is involved in dangerous resistance efforts. (My favorite Valentina scene comes near the film’s end, Maria telling Louis, “We are both ghosts in the same world.”)
Another good reason to tune in is for an early-ish performance by Audrey Hepburn, a year before her “big break” in Roman Holiday! She’s a young and naive girl (with a noticeably higher-pitched voice), not deeply involved in Louis and Maria’s activities, but still in danger.
The film weighs the costs of violent resistance — the conflict between wanting a better world, and using destruction as a means to that end. Innocent lives will likely be lost. Is it worth all of that, when the success of the resistance’s goal isn’t guaranteed?
The film explores these questions with a slower pace, but still offers plenty of high-impact moments. There’s a lot of tension as the story progresses, holding the viewer’s attention while provoking thought.
I would recommend giving Secret People a watch. It is, of course, a must-see for Audrey Hepburn fans, but also worth tuning in for Valentina Cortese’s strong performance, and its subject matter.