This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 17th April 2011
There is something almost comforting about seeing the words “Written and Directed by Mike Leigh” as a film starts. It’s like you’re being invited to a dinner party of three-dimensional characters, many of whom you recognise from your own life, and others you hope never to meet in reality.
Following the over-the-top but surprisingly successful Happy-Go-Lucky, Another Year harks back to Leigh’s quality, lower-key dramas like Secrets and Lies and All or Nothing. The film revolves around the happy marriage of Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), two of the gentlest, most grounded people you’ll ever see in a Mike Leigh film. The action, such as it is, comprises meals with their emotionally charred friends and family. As is traditional, the dialogue is simple, focussing on everyday matters, and the dramatic tension – which, despite the
apparently laid-back approach, is at times excruciating – rides on interpersonal dealings.
Lesley Manville, a Leigh staple here gets the Brenda Blethyn role of Mary – a self-involved piece of mutton whose lamb costume could be convincing were it not for her obvious desperation. Playing the “glass-half-full” while complaining about every misfortune, Mary’s glass is in fact usually drained before a sentence is complete. In some hands this could be car-wreck drama – but writer/director Leigh treats his characters with sensitivity, giving them lines that say one thing and a face that says the opposite.
The film starts with a clinically depressed woman being asked “What is the one thing that would improve your life?” to which she answers: “A different life”. But it’s not all doom and gloom. As the seasons turn, we are kept guessing who will have done what, with whom, in the intervening months. And as the story unfolds, we are never disappointed.