Starring: Jom Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Oliver Maltman, Peter Wight, David Bradley, Imelda Staunton, Stuart McQuarrie
Director: Mike Leigh
Writer: Mike Leigh
Cinematography: Dick Pope
Original Score: Gary Yershon
Running Time: 129 mins.
Another Year, the latest deconstruction of the human condition from Mike Leigh, holds a mild surprise for a Leigh film in that the central characters are actually happy, happily married and living a life of contentment with each other and further to this they show no sign of cracks appearing, the characters of Tom (Broadbent) and Gerri (Sheen) are the kind of couple who have likely been together since their youth and were made for each other sharing a perfect life in their quaint little house spending their free time at the allotment drinking tea come rain or shine and as at ease in long silences with one-another as they are in the company of their friends, if this wasn’t a Mike Leigh film it could have all come across as cringe-worthy and be constructed of two-dimensional characters, as it is they are fully rounded and made to be as likeable people as you will see in a film all year thanks in part to the excellent script but mostly owing to the ample talents of Sheen and Broadbent, ever the jolly presence.
But if this were two hours plus of screen time about an eternally happy couple there wouldn’t be much in the way of development or drama which is where the lesser surprising Leigh element slips in…Tom and Gerri might be as happy as can be, living their story-book life but their friends and family (bar their son Joe, who finds a similar happiness to his parents) are all suffering various afflictions and woes, put simply they are of the usual Mike Leigh world we have become accustomed too. Unsurprisingly though it is in these people the film finds a great deal of emotional heft, particularly in the case of Lesley Manville’s character, Mary, an aging singleton craving something approaching what Tom and Gerri have but would happily settle for someone who at the very least wants her, one scene plays out with Manville caught between Peter Wight’s slobbish Ken and Joe demonstrating two sides of the coin and suggesting Mary has a higher agenda than pure lust, seeing Joe as the key to her friend’s life.
Each season introduces a different, and progressively more depressing, character and scenario, whether it be Ken, an alcoholic to match that of Mary, or in an opening cameo that hooks and reels you in Imelda Staunton who has little to do with Gerri’s life other than as a patient to her but this is the first of many encounters that I sense are supposed to be life-affirming through their sheer harsh nature, everyone has their problems, if you will, is what I think Leigh wants us to recognise and that finding the kind of dream-like happiness of Tom and Gerri is only reserved for a few.
Unfortunately as hard-hitting as all this is, and there is no denying it is affecting to watch and impeccably acted, the central performances feel rather perfunctory and even if they are happy I would much rather have learnt much more about Tom and Gerri than Mark or Ken, in fact the minute any other characters position improves (i.e. Joe) Leigh loses interest. Like I said it is harder to craft a gripping or involving dynamic around happy people but maybe in the case of Another Year there was room for some happiness and light beyond characters acting as vessels for all others to vent their problems and issues. This I feel suggests either Leigh is afraid to tackle something positive and try the harder task of making happy people more interesting characters or he simply finds it more rewarding to delve in misery, either way it neglects the audience of something different from a man who’s work is firmly in the stale category of late.
Having always been of the opinion that film-makers should push themselves Another Year simply demonstrates once again that Mike Leigh is either afraid or unwilling to stretch his talents beyond depression or misery, there is no doubt that this is a film packed with acting talent it’s just that it all becomes a little drab and dull in the end.