Another Year


Reviewed by: Val Kermode

Another Year
"No one knows better than Mike Leigh how to pick away at that surface of competence and affability that we all like to affect and reach beneath it to those fears we all carry with us."

Another wonderful offering from the master of tragi-comedy. The film opens with the acclaimed Imelda Staunton as a depressed woman seeking help from her doctor and then being sent to see a counsellor. But this time it isn't Staunton's film. We follow not the patient, but the counsellor, Gerri (Ruth Sheen), who is one partner in what seems to be a perfect marriage. The other partner, played by Jim Broadbent, is Tom, an engineering geologist who goes to work designing part of London's sewage system and comes home to cook delicious meals for his wife.

Watching this happy couple with their cosily cluttered kitchen, their idyllic allotment, their fridge packed with food, the shared suppers, the bedtime reading, we are naturally looking for the worm in this rosy apple. Is one of them being unfaithful? Does someone have a fatal illness? Or will it be Joe, the 30-year-old son who never mentions a girlfriend? Despite a wobbly moment when Tom mishears the words “stroke rehab” as “straight rehab”, none of these possibilities turns out to be true. Instead we come to see that this really is a good and loving relationship in the midst of a sea of loneliness.

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No one knows better than Mike Leigh how to pick away at that surface of competence and affability that we all like to affect and reach beneath it to those fears we all carry with us. The fear of getting older with so much left undone, the fear of change, of losing friends, of not being needed and most of all of not being loved. The embodiment of all this is Gerri's work colleague Mary, superbly played by Lesley Manville. We all know someone like Mary - pretty, vivacious, looking for fun and excitement, but always choosing the wrong men, always making the same mistakes and then, the wrong side of 40, inwardly panicking, grasping at anything that might mean a new start and seeking solace in ever larger glasses of white wine. (Watch out for that fleeting moment of bewilderment when Mary realises she is holding an empty glass.)

The only person who really wants to get involved with Mary is Tom's friend Ken (Peter Wight). Lonely and overweight, he eats, smokes and drinks continuously to cover his own disillusionment with his hated job and a world in which he feels left behind. But Mary rejects him as the needy instinctively shun the needy.

Mary's haven is her friendship with Gerri and Tom. They feed her - “I can't cook”, “There's never anything in my fridge” - They put her to bed in the spare room when she's too drunk to get home. She arrives late for everything. When she drives her new car to their barbecue (her life-changing new car – a doomed venture from the start) she delivers a monologue about getting lost and everything going wrong, hilarious but desperately sad.

Then she crosses the line. Tom and Gerri's son Joe brings someone new into the family and Mary can't hide her devastation. It's clear to everyone that she always hoped she might be the one for Joe, despite their age difference and Joe's complete lack of interest in her. Then we see how family comes first. Does Gerri offer comfort to her friend? No. The shutters come down and Mary is left on the outside.

As ever for this director this is a strong ensemble film, and all the acting is of a very high standard, including stalwarts such as Phil Davis and David Bradley. Imelda Staunton packs into five minutes a performance that would sustain a whole film. The story moves through the four seasons of the year, from warmth and fragile promises to hopes dashed and increasing coldness. Lesley Manville is outstanding as Mary, a woman crumbling tiny piece by piece. By the end of the film your heart will ache for her.

Reviewed on: 21 Oct 2010
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Mike Leigh drama about family, friendship and ageing.
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Anton Bitel ****

Director: Mike Leigh

Writer: Mike Leigh

Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Oliver Maltman, Peter Wight, David Bradley, Martin Savage, Karina Fernandez, Michele Austin, Philip Davis, Imelda Staunton, Stuart McQuarrie, Eileen Davies, Mary Jo Randle, Ben Roberts

Year: 2010

Runtime: 129 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK


London 2010

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