By Marc Glassman
Mike Leigh, director and writer
Starring: Jim Broadbent (Tom), Lesley Manville (Mary), Ruth Sheen (Gerri), Peter Wight (Ken), Oliver Maltman (Joe), David Breadley (Ronnie), Karina Fernandez (Katie), Martin Savage (Carl)
Mike Leigh is a master filmmaker, our finest chronicler of lives of quiet desperation. Leigh’s great strength is his honesty: he refuses to sentimentalize or pity the characters who occupy centre stage in his films. He accepts all of them one and challenges the viewers to do the same whether it’s Vera Drake, a compassionate abortionist, or Johnny, the violent misanthrope in Naked or Cynthia, the working class woman who learns to love her abandoned black daughter in Secrets and Lies.
Another Year mines familiar Leigh terrain. Once again, we’re in contemporary Britain, enmeshed in the quotidian reality of people working at steady jobs. Tom is a geologist and his wife Gerri is a counselor. They’re happily married but that’s hardly the case for the people surrounding them. Tom’s best friend Ken is an over-weight alcoholic who would love to get involved with Gerri’s good-looking office friend and secretary, Mary.
It’s Mary’s story that propels Another Year through its four seasons. A woman of spark and charm, her beauty is slowly fading as she gets older. She envies Gerri’s marriage not out of a desire for Tom but because she needs someone in her life. Ken is beneath her and you soon realize that none of the men she knows can fulfill her.
Then, Joe shows up–Tom and Gerri’s 30-year-old son. And we realize that Mary fancies him. Nothing gets played out until Joe shows up with Katie, a young woman who has brought home to meet his parents. Mary is there as a guest–and finally reveals herself.
But this is a Mike Leigh movie. Even moments of humiliation can be sorted out if people are willing to grow up. Mary is given her second chance in a dramatic wintry conclusion that involves a funeral and questions of mortality and familial responsibility.
Like all Mike Leigh films, this film was created with the active collaboration of the actors. Leigh always comes up with a story, situations and characters and then casts the parts. His actors work with him on each scene, improvising the dialogue for months before everything is set and shot.
Leigh’s collaborators for Another Year include Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent, veteran members of his informal rep company. Manville in particular is extraordinary as Mary but all three are remarkable; they set a tone matched by the rest of the performers.
Another Year is a film of wisdom and maturity. It’s one that deserves viewing–in theatres and later on DVD.