‘Another Year’ is one of Mike Leigh’s finest

Lesley Manville and Ruth Sheen in a scene from Another Year by Mike Leigh — Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Mike Leigh’s films and plays may not be for everyone, but for those people who are tickled pink by his deep focus on everyday people living everyday lives, his projects often prove to be the highlights of any cinematic or theater-going year.

Case in point: Another Year, a subtle yet still earth-shattering look at a London family and the friends who they invite over for a bit of wine and some home-cooked meals.

Leigh’s films materialize out of a unique form of collaboration between the director and the actors. It seems characters are first given the chance to percolate, and then comes the dialogue and storyline of the future movie. This gives Leigh’s films a sense of earned history, as if the characters are truly connected as family members or colleagues. It’s so organic that it feels improvisational.

Another Year surrounds the lovely husband-wife couple of Tom and Gerri (yes, just like the cartoon). Jim Broadbent plays Tom, an environmental engineer, and Ruth Sheen plays Gerri, a counselor/therapist. They are a happily married couple who enjoy gardening, the company of their 30-year-old son (played by Oliver Maltman) and drinking a fine wine with a good meal.

Entering their orbit is Mary (played by the bravura Lesley Manville), a professional colleague of Gerri’s who can’t quite seem to find any happiness in her life. Also stopping by is Ken (the lovable Peter Wight), who is similarly having a tough go at growing old. We watch these pained adults through one year, and Leigh smartly divides the movie into four seasons, starting with spring and ending with winter.

We watch them eat, drink, talk about life, deal with death and enjoy one another’s company. There’s almost no plot, but Leigh’s films are more interested in reality, how do we live, how do we connect or disconnect with the person sitting across from us.

All of the performances in the film are beautifully realized, from Imelda Staunton’s brief opening scene to Broadbent’s affable role as Tom. Sheen is pitch-perfect as Gerri, a woman so nice and caring one wonders how she figured out the difficulty of life.

Manville, though, is a cut above the rest, and this is most definitely because her character is given the fullest arc in the story. It grows painful to watch her depression grow throughout the seasons. She is divorced without children and latches on to her friendships with an unhealthy grasp. Manville portrays an iconic Leigh character, similar to Sally Hawkins’ turn in Happy-Go-Lucky, Brenda Blethyn’s role in Secrets & Lies and Imelda Staunton’s devastating character in Vera Drake. Manville was robbed of an Oscar nomination this year.

Another Year will not work for everyone. Some might find its length at more than two hours a little trying and its ordinariness a little ho-hum. After all, there is a societal darkness that pervades the film: Dealing with funerals and strange friends doesn’t always make for happy, happy cinematic experiences. But Leigh’s work is rooted in reality, and for his dedication, Another Year excels.

One learns to love each and every one of these characters. By the end of the film, and its magically oft-putting last shot, I was ready to spend another year with the characters of Another Year.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
  • Another Year

  • 2010

  • Written and directed by Mike Leigh

  • Starring Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent

  • Running time: 129 minutes

  • Rating: ★★★★

Revised

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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