Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville and Ruth Sheen
Distributor: Icon Films
Runtime: 130 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
Another fine Mike Leigh portrait of real human beings, one of his best.
When Mike Leigh says ‘Another Year’, we surmise, rightly, that he does not mean a happy new year. It is for some, not for others. In fact, one of the characters says, ‘same old, same old’. While there are three characters for whom life is miserable – one replies, when asked what would make her happy, ‘a new life’ – the central characters are not only happy, they are comfortable in the best sense with their lives and they not only love each other, they are patient and kind to their friends, no matter what their friends’ woes (and capacity to irritate).
There are four parts to the film, each season labelled (and photographed with different shades and lighting) and work in the allotment garden reminding us of sowing, ripening and harvesting.
There is a wonderful opening sequence with a depressed housewife suffering from insomnia, interviewed by a pregnant doctor and then, quite unwillingly, speaking with a therapist. The woman is played by Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) and it is pity that we do not see her again. She is a means of introducing the counsellor, Gerri (Ruth Sheen who has been in several Leigh films but shines here in a central role). Gerri is married (40 years) to engineering geologist Tom (a forthright but benign Jim Broadbent). And, in case you are thinking it, Tom remarks that they have got used to the Tom and Jerry quips over the years.
We see Gerri in her dealings with long-term friend and office secretary, Mary (Lesley Manville in a tour-de-force performance as an unwillingly ageing, lonely and drinking woman prone to unrequited flirting) and we see Tom with his drinking and greedily over-eating friend, Ken (Peter Wight), who has nothing in life except his job. Gerri and Tom are also good parents and relate well to their son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), and his eventual girlfriend, Katie. Mary’s antipathy towards Katy is palpable.
While nothing much changes on the surface (‘same old, same old’), Tom’s sister-in-law dies in Derby and he and Gerri arrange the funeral for Tom’s taciturn older brother, Ron (David Bradley). This sequence, interrupted by Ron’s estranged and angry son, is powerfully real.
The dialogue, created by the cast in rehearsal and then carefully crafted by Leigh, is like life and often moving. And to see such genuinely and unobtrusively good people like Gerri and Tom on screen is really heartening and shows Leigh as a film-maker, not just of themes of unhappiness and failure, but of hope and joy as well.
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