Another Year is typical of a Mike Leigh film in that it concentrates firmly on the characters in a thoroughly British setting. There are some wonderful performances, as well as a real negativity about the film, which is haunting.
Another Year follows a year in the life of couple Tom and Gerri, focusing on their relationship with their family and friends. As time passes, some of these relationships change, but the characters don’t seem to follow suit…
A very obvious parallel is drawn between the lives of the couple and that of their friends. As is remarked a number of times, Tom and Gerri are a lucky pair; they appear to have a perfect marriage, and have a great relationship with their grown-up son Joe. Their friends, however, seem to have been afflicted with the opposite luck. In comparison to the couple, the friends appear to lead hollow and unfulfilling lives.
This is all a fairly realistic representation of how life is sometimes. Nevertheless, the two friends of the couple featured most in Another Year, Mary and Ken, as well as Tom’s brother Ronnie, all have alcohol problems. It is unclear what is the cause and what is the effect in each case, however there is an overriding insinuation that these characters do nothing to help themselves out of their situation. There seems to be no redemption for these doomed characters, particularly in the case of Mary.
Gerri’s colleague Mary is one of the most tragic characters you will see on the big screen this year. Middle-aged and single, her mask of calmness often slips, especially if she has been drinking. At times, it is hard to watch Mary in the midst of her upset. Mary’s obliviousness to how her behaviour is perceived is what is most tragic. There is an unequivocal pessimism that she will continue in this cycle indefinitely.
Lesley Manville gives a tremendous performance as Mary. She brings humour when exhibiting the dottiness of Mary, and a great sadness in more serious and poignant moments. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen share a great chemistry as married pair Tom and Gerri, with Broadbent in particular a cause for many of the laughs.
The script is Mike Leigh at his best, accurately portraying a plethora of emotions in a single scene. The filmmaker’s greatest skill is how effortlessly the humour turns to sadness and back to joviality again in such a realistic fashion.
Another Year is thought-provoking in its exploration of the relationships between the characters. Although the lack of redemption for some of the characters is pessimistic, the film nevertheless is an engaging watch.
Another Year is being screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.