Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Another Year (2010)

Friends and family.

Image: Momentum Pictures

You know what you’re getting with a Mike Leigh film. The high level of quality is so assured that there’s almost a lack of excitement that comes from knowing that the likelihood of disappointment is very slim indeed. And, true to form, Another Year is another superb film.
The events of the film take place over a day in each season. We see a year in the life of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a content, happily married couple. Their only (mild) worry is that their son Joe (Oliver Maltman) doesn’t have a girlfriend. Meanwhile their two friends Mary (Lesley Manville) and Ken (Peter Wight) are both lonely and desperately unhappy.
Another Year feels less optimistic than Leigh’s last outing Happy-Go-Lucky, but it’s by no means a bleak film. It’s also slightly less energetic, consisting almost entirely of long scenes of dialogue punctuated by meaningful glances. Most of the action takes place either at Tom and Gerri’s dinner table or at their allotment. Leigh’s famously improvised/work-shopped scripts allow his regular troupe of actors to inhabit their characters completely. Conversations that are apparently trivial are imbued with deeper significance as the characters make their way through another year of their lives.
Broadbent and Sheen play the married couple around whom the other characters seem to congregate. Their house is a place of safety, a reminder of the old days for Ken and a necessary refuge from the cold outside world for Mary. While their performances aren’t showy, the two actors convey a huge amount with the smallest reactions and glances.
The two friends who need help are both similar and different. Ken bemoans the youth of today, and finds comfort in over-eating, drinking, and smoking. It’s fairly obvious he’s going to end up in an early grave, but he resists Tom’s attempts to cheer him. The same cannot be said for Mary, who is wonderfully brought to life by Manville. She’s a terribly sad and lonely soul, finding solace in wine and the company of Gerri, who over the course of the film gradually treats her more and more like a patient than a friend. We all know people like Mary, who we are torn between hugging and shouting at. Naturally, Mary’s actions bring things to a turning point, but there’s no huge argument or fight. Mary’s not a bad person but she’s clutching at anything that she thinks might make her happy.
The rest of the cast is typically excellent. Maltman is great as Joe, clearly displaying characteristics of his two parents, as is David Bradley (Harry Potter) as Tom’s taciturn brother who appears late in the film. There’s also an excellent cameo from Imelda Staunton at the start of the film as a depressed insomniac who Gerri is trying to treat.
At a shade over two hours it’s longer than a lot of films out at the moment, but Another Year never drags. It moves at its own pace. As always with Leigh’s films, the characters are wonderfully drawn and instantly familiar. It’s another excellent film from Leigh and company.
Verdict: Heartfelt, funny, and moving. A superb drama.

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