For a film such as this with the reputation and expectations it already has, it’d be very easy going into a review of it saying ‘It’s a Mike Leigh film, it’s as well done as you think it’ll be’ and end it like that. For Another Year, though, not only would it be underselling it to you as a review, it would also undersell how genuinely great the film stands on its own, ranking up there as one of Leigh’s best works.
Another Year goes through four seasons of life with Tom and Gerri, a old age couple living together happily planting and picking vegetables they grow in the with Tom retired and Gerri working in the hospital as a councilor for the NHS. They also have a very close relationship with Joe, a community lawyer, who visits regularly and is there for them when they need it. Their life is pretty much perfect but the real story is how they cope with their more difficult friends who deal with their own problems such as nervous singleton Mary, who wants so much from her life but never is able to express it in the most positive way, and Ken (Peter Wright) who is overweight and trying desperately to get out of a rut he’s in at this stage of his life.
It’s a story of different kinds of getting older and the stages that it goes through for certain kinds of people. Getting old lonely, getting old in a job you don’t like, getting old with the person you love, even getting old with people around you who you rarely ever see but want to understand. The maturity that Leigh approaches is very impressive and different from the usual ‘Life was better in my day’ trap that some film makers and television producers easily fall into.
The acting is very impressive across the board, with everyone giving a good to great performance in their own way. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, playing Tom and Gerri respectively, have a very close relationship and have believability of being a couple for the many years they have been together but the real stand out performance goes to Leslie Manville, who has had the same relationship with Mike Leigh as Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Di Nero have with Martin Scorsese, who played Mary with as much passion and believability as she could give and making the character her own. You sympathies with her to the extent you just want her to be happy but she makes her own mistakes the same way anyone else would but with much deeper circumstances.
What I got out of the film itself the most was how genuinely funny it was. Humor in a Mike Leigh film is surprising enough, but Another Year blends this humour with genuine human relations that people have had to make it relatable humour rather than conventional comedic offerings. We’ve all had that friend like Mary who could chat for Britain and might have a bit too much to drink. We’ve all known someone or had a brother like Ronnie who keeps himself to himself, we’ve had that friend like Ken who seems to bond well with us but not with other people we know and the timing of how this is done and executed is second to none. The subtle shot changes to expressions of how other characters react to certain situations is one that cannot be underestimated in a film like this and make for some of the best moments the film has to offer.
Speaking of shots, the cinematography and camera positions are kind of a trademark of Leigh’s style and it shines through here. It’s a weird thing when someone can make city blocks near the Themes almost seem beautiful but it somehow works and it also does a great job in reflecting the time scale and what is going on depending on the season and occasion. It’s a very minor thing in the bigger scope of the plot, acting and script but it’s one of the very nice touches made that makes the film know its direction when it’s getting to it
As with every Mike Leigh film, the script is firmly grounded in reality. Every line and action done is believable and realistic and really flows from each to the next, never feeling awkward and out of place except in two exceptions. The beginning scenes introduce a character who isn’t really brought up again until after a few minutes into the film and, whilst it could be seen as a metaphor for someone’s life feeling not simple in the same way as the other characters in the movie, it would have been nice for the audience at least to see the continuation of that subplot, however small that is. The ending also felt a bit off and too open ended but in the case of that, there is much more of a reasoned understanding to why it was that way and didn’t really take away from the overall enjoyment I had for it.
I came out of Another Year deeply surprised about how much I enjoyed the film as a whole. Everything came to place and fitted together to make something quite special. Whilst it might not be Mike Leigh’s most provocative and hard hitting of movies and whilst it might not be totally perfect, I will hope that it will be remembered as one of the finest he has made. Defiantly one you should see, no matter your film background.
Another Year comes out in the UK on the 5th of November