Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Mike Leigh
Stars: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, Peter Wight, Oliver Maltman.
The painful lives of others? The new film from Mike Leigh is a lowkey affair that explores twelve months in the life of comfortably married couple Tom and Gerri (Leigh veterans Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen). They have well-developed careers – he is a geologist, and she is a counsellor at a local clinic- a comfortable life and a warm loving home they are happy to share. They are a happy couple, content with their lot in life, and still share a deep affection for one another after four decades of marriage. But as we see through a series of gatherings throughout the year their friends and relatives are not so happy.
A constant presence at these gatherings is Mary (Lesley Manville), a work colleague of Gerri’s, who is something of an insecure and erratic lost soul full of self-loathing and regrets for the mistakes of her past. She likes to drink and flirt and often acts inappropriately. But she is lonely, and as the film progresses, she becomes increasingly bitter and desperate. We also meet Tom’s old college friend Ken (Peter Wight), who is a painfully sad and lonely widower who has not yet found his place in life. And on one occasion their thirtysomething lawyer son Joe (Oliver Maltman) brings home his new girl friend, which somehow disturbs Mary.
The film is broken into four distinctive episodes, each one capturing the bleak desperation of their friends and family. Fittingly, the winter segment is the bleakest, dealing as it does with death, loss and grief. This segment has been appropriately filmed using darker colours and greys and dull lighting by regular cinematographer Dick Pope. His lensing matches the sombre mood and captures that awkwardness of a funeral.
Another Year is another gem of a film that follows many of Leigh’s usual themes and preoccupations. It showcases Leigh’s strengths as a filmmaker, with its wonderful and natural sounding dialogue, its unforced observational style, penetrating view into the humdrum lives of its characters, and precise attention to detail. He is superb at creating awkward comedy based around embarrassing social encounters, but the situations he creates reek of authenticity. He directs his material with such compassion and insight, and remains non-judgemental about his characters despite their obvious flaws and fatalistic acceptance of their sad lives.
Leigh also draws wonderful performances from his small but effective ensemble cast. Broadbent and Sheen develop an easy going relationship and a wonderful rapport, and their gestures, looks and comfortable silences are convincing. However, Manville leaves an indelible impression as Mary, who is often ignorant of the impression she leaves. Manville brings a vulnerability and fragility to her devastating yet heartbreaking performance that stands out.
There are some strong emotional moments here, but the usually pessimistic and downbeat Leigh also manages to find plenty of wry humour. Another Year is a film about real and often flawed characters and realistic situations that, like his excellent Secrets And Lies, will resonate powerfully with audiences.