The Review: There’s a certain comfort to a Mike Leigh film. He’s explored different themes, moods and eras over the years, but compared to someone like Steven Soderbergh, who weaves in and out of genres almost as if he’s scared to be pinned down, there’s always a certain quality to Leigh’s work. That quality is undoubtedly driven by the meticulous preparation and extensive collaborations with his actors, although he has arguably mellowed a little in recent years, especially with his previous effort, the Sally Hawkins starrer Happy-Go-Lucky.
To a certain extent, though, it’s business as usual at the start, with Imelda Staunton laying down the early groundwork before we get to meet the core characters of the story. We follow Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) through the course of what is in essence an unremarkable year, but there are four stopping off points in the course of that journey, nominally marked out by the seasons but also marking the key interactions between Tom, Gerri and Gerri’s son Joe (Oliver Maltman) and work colleague Mary (Lesley Manville). While Joe and Mary start in similar situations, reflecting on their own isolation, events as the seasons progress take them in notably different directions.
Tom and Gerri (and yes, reference is made in the film to the coincidence of their names) seem to be cast from the same mould as Sally Hawkins’ Poppy from Happy-Go-Lucky, the eternal optimists just travelling through life, but at a later point in their journey, so with a little world weariness taking the polish off that optimism. They certainly allow event to intrude on that happiness a little, and of course Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen are both thoroughly charming in their roles. But it’s Mary who’s the catalyst for events, in her own little bubble and bouncing through Tom and Gerri’s world and causing ripples as she goes. Lesley Manville is outstanding as the fraught and excitable Mary, ranging from gabbling at nineteen to the dozen when her nerves come through or when flirting with Joe, to uncomfortable silences when left in the company of others for too long, and in every extreme Manville is close to perfection.
The passage of the seasons is marked very effectively, not only in the changing cinematography but in the use of the seasons to reflect the moods of the characters themselves, almost as if they create the feeling of the season more than their environment. But nothing is flash or showy, Leigh giving scenes the room to breathe that they need and not afraid to linger when the story requires. Despite that, that pace never flags, although it could be argued that Another Year is always a shade more interesting when Manville is on screen. It’s her performance that will linger longest after the credits, but Leigh remains in the fine form he’s been in for the past decade and this could actually be his best effort for some time; subtle, believable, funny and with just enough personal despair to balance out the lighter drama.
Why see it at the cinema: To fully appreciate the shades of the cinematography and to become wrapped up fully in the fates of the characters. There’s also a few chuckles to appreciate with your fellow audience members.
The Score: 9/10