Director: Mike Leigh
Writer: Mike Leigh
Cinematographer: Dick Pope
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Oliver Maltman, Peter Wight
Studio/Running Time: Sony Pictures Classics, 129 min.
There are no super heroes in this all-British production. No epic space battles, no Middle-Earth elven queens. Instead, Another Year is what comedian Eddie Izzard calls “a-room-with-a-view-and-a-staircase-and-a-pond type of movie.” And it’s wonderful.
Writer/director Mike Leigh (Vera Drake, Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy) takes us through a year-in-the-life of a rather ordinary London couple and their relationships with family and friends. Like many of his films, Another Year relies on superb acting, where the study of social behavior through the actions of interesting though often sedate characters is the strength of the film.
Tom (Jim Broadbent) is a London geologist who’s wife Gerri (Ruth Sheen) is a therapist. Early in the film, she sees a first-time patient outstandingly played by the great Imelda Staunton (Vera in Vera Drake). It’s a small part for Staunton but critical in defining Gerri.
Tom’s and Gerri’s lives are rather uncomplicated, and happy. They work. They have dinner in their cozy flat with a lovely patio. They garden in their community plot. Gerri’s workmate Mary (Lesley Manville) is not so fortunate. Never married, approaching 50, she whines about her bad relationships and drinks to excess. She’s desperate for a man and even puts the make on Gerri’s 30-year-old son Joe (Oliver Maltman) whom she’s known since he was a boy. In a pitiful irony, she rejects Tom’s friend Ken who in many ways is a mirror image of Mary.
Manville’s dominating interpretation of Mary serves as one of the best film performances of the past year. There’s an adventure in emotion with every scene Manville graces, particularly when she finds herself alone in Gerri’s house with Tom’s non-communicative brother. Within minutes, even seconds, her face unravels into hope and hopelessness, despair and defeat, humility and gratitude. It’s a rare, defining performance.
Cinematographer Dick Pope, who has worked often with Leigh including Topsy-Turvy, brings a genuineness to each scene and location. Broadbent, another favorite for Leigh, is as brilliant as ever as Tom, who takes life at face value and is rewarded with a loving wife and contented son. When the wife of Tom’s estranged brother dies, Tom looks at his grieving and lost sibling (who’s own son is belligerent and resentful) and immediately brings him back to their home.
Tom and Gerri are decent, albeit idealistic, people surrounded by good, albeit sometimes adrift, friends. Thanks to Leigh, with his way of writing characters that are sublimely universal, these are people we know, people we can relate to. But with whom are we really supposed to identify in Another Year? Tom and Gerri? Or Mary? Or maybe the resentful nephew? After all, we can’t all be as perfect as Tom and Gerri. Leigh appears to deal only in the study of characters, not solutions. It’s doubtful that he has, or even requires, an answer.