Another Year (Mike Leigh, 2010)


Jim Broadbent (Tom), Lesley Manville (Mary), Ruth Sheen (Gerri). Screenplay by Mike Leigh. Directed by Mike Leigh. Rating: 12. Running time: 129 minutes.

Made in Dagenham may have been hyped up as the British film of the year, but I can say wholeheartedly that it is Another Year that has made me proud to belong to this country. Tea drinking aside, there is nothing distinctively British about it, but Another Year is made by a man so in tune with the issue of living and in such control of his medium of conveying it, that if the battle is between Mike Leigh and a film about the Equal Pay Act, I take Mike Leigh.

The age old problem of growing old has been addressed by so many artists, but seldom has anyone grasped and portrayed it quite like this. Here we have a couple, Gerri and Tom, so warmly in love since their university years through until now with their heads of grey hair. Despite almost everyone around them wishing away their lives through chronic depression, they seem to handle such people both respectfully and effortlessly, and yet also whilst allowing it to have no impact on their own relaxed lives of contentment.

Their house in the London suburbs is to die for: not bourgeois, just so homely as to make clear in a second that it took decades to decorate and perfect. Their kitchen bursts with colourful mugs and tea pots and over a dozen cooking oils scattered on the sideboards; they don’t just cook dinner and move on. They cherish their food, and everyone they know seems pulled to their delightful personalities and haven of a home.

Number one on the list of wounded souls they have to handle is Mary – the secretary at the counselling office Gerri works at, but who should blatantly be on the other side of the desk checking in there for her own appointments. She’s single, comfortably middle-aged, a growing alcoholic and desperately clingy to any type of human affection she can draw out from people. We also have Ken – a family friend from outside the area, presumably who they met as undergraduates. He visits for the sake of old times, but after a few pints ends up involuntarily exposing himself as a nervous wreck. Tom notes he could easily retire by now, but Ken says his only idea of what to do if he had no work would be to live down the pub. People like this are everywhere you look in Another Year, Gerri and Tom – and their matured son – aside. Only they have mastered the art of living and insulated themselves from the apparent tyrannies of loneliness and the ensuing depression.

By the fourth season of the film’s quarter-segments, we come to understand and know the minds of the characters so well that Leigh’s achievement starts to sink in. Wikipedia insists he begins his projects with a premise but no script, most dialogue being based upon improv. I don’t believe it. There is no way personas as rich as this are developed spontaneously; Gerri in particular is so well thought out as a character that her traits seem to flourish right on the screen in front of us. By winter, when they head North for the funeral of Tom’s sister-in-law, there is a heartbreaking scene when only a handful of people turn up, our now well-known family comforting Tom’s brother, and that man’s gone-wrong son tragically barging in late and missing the entire ceremony. There has clearly been serious issues with this man, Gerri’s nephew, in the past, but that doesn’t for one second stop her from comforting him, giving him a chance to talk properly rather than assuming he’s still rude, even if ultimately that’s what he turns out to be.

This was, apparently, the most loved film of Cannes 2010. Critics are said to have walked around talking about it with so much admiration as to seemingly make it a shoo-in for the Palme d’Or. I understand wholeheartedly why, and I’m utterly and infuriatingly driven crazy by the thought that a piece of trash like Uncle Boonmee beat it to that kind of recognition.

There have been some special films released this year. I wouldn’t rank it as high for emotional impact as Biutiful, but when you realise Sean Penn has said Bardem’s performance in that film is the best he’s seen since Brando in Last Tango in Paris, from 1972, you’ll see that that is far from a put down. Apart from this, as a pure piece of drama, Another Year is the finest film you will see this year. A long and beautiful friendship with the films of Mike Leigh, for me at least, undoubtedly awaits.

2 Responses to “Another Year (Mike Leigh, 2010)”

  1. 1 Academy awards: what will win and what should. « jacob williamson | thoughts on film
  2. 2 Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008) « jacob williamson | thoughts on film

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