Life isn't sweet for the characters of Mike Leigh’s new film, and it’s not happy-go-lucky either.
Another Year is, in short, another Leigh film about normal folk living ordinary lives. And yet, of course, it’s about so much more.
It’s about an allotment for one thing – a small parcel of land lovingly tended by geologist Tom (Jim Broadbent) and his medical counsellor wife Gerri (Ruth Sheen).
It’s also about a car: a dysfunctional little runaround that Gerri’s lonely, wineslugging co-worker Mary (Lesley Manville) buys in the futile expectation it will open up new horizons.
It’s about Tom’s chum Ken (Peter Wight), a boozy, overweight sadsack. It’s also about Tom’s older brother Ronnie (David Bradley) and their respective sons: one a wry community lawyer (Oliver Maltman), the other an angry, volatile malcontent (Martin Savage).
Family and friends, children and parents, siblings and colleagues. Split into four parts, each one focused on a different season, Another Year has a formal, Eric Rohmer-esque structure that makes it one of its creator’s most ordered works.
Yet the middle-class suburban milieu it shows is anything but, the lottery of humanity having blessed Tom and Gerri with married contentment and saddled the likes of Mary, Ken and Janet (a despondent patient of Gerri’s, memorably played by Imelda Staunton) with disappointment and misery. Why do some luck out and others miss out?
You won’t find an answer to that conundrum in Year. But you do see what happens when the two collide, Mary’s inappropriate crush on Maltman’s jovial Joe coming a cropper when he arrives for tea with a perky girlfriend (Karina Fernandez) half her age.
Manville is teriffic here, her pinched mouth and teary eyes conveying the anguish of a woman who’s just had her last illusion shattered. Yet so too is Sheen, her benevolent compassion turning steely at the merest hint of her brood being threatened.
Throw in Broadbent’s chipper, gently mocking patriarch and you have three of the finest performances ever to grace a Mike Leigh yarn. No mean feat from the man who gave us Naked, Vera Drake and Secrets & Lies.
Meantime, long-term Leigh collaborator, cinematographer Dick Pope, elegantly transports us from spring through to winter with a such graceful fluidity that one easily forgives the film’s occasional longueur.
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Leigh’s take on life’s rich tapestry – its smiles, its frowns, its ups and downs – is second nature to us now. Yet he’s still made Another funny, perceptive, moving human drama.