That ol' Mike Leigh magic

Another Year

on May 22, 2010 by Richard Mowe

This touching and beautifully nuanced drama from Mike Leigh, England's master of cinematic improvisation, follows a collection of lonely characters revolving around a happy middle-aged couple. Mike Leigh has a knack of making the ordinary extraordinary. Here he deals with themes of class, family and depression over a period of a year, breaking it up into seasonal chapters.The ensemble acting is of a high caliber and Another Year was given a rapturous welcome at the Cannes Film Festival where it was touted as his best work since Secrets and Lies (1996), but it may have difficulty reaching beyond Leigh devotees.

At the heart of Another Year is a contented, solidly middle-class family in North London. Tom (played by Oscar-winner and Leigh favorite Jim Broadbent) and his wife Gerri (Ruth Sheen) provide a mature anchor for an odd collection of waifs and strays.
They seem to have the perfect, mutually supportive marriage. He is an engineering geologist and she works as a medical counselor. They tend their vegetable plot, care about the environment and cook endless meals for family and friends.

When Gerri invites her friend and colleague Mary (Lesley Manville in a superlative performance) over for dinner one evening, we see the other side of the coin. She is fragile, lonely and desperate for a relationship. Mary's nervous chatter over many glasses of wine reveals her vulnerability.

Another lost soul wanders into the frame: Tom's friend Ken (Peter Wight) sporting a t-shirt that proclaims: "Less thinking... more drinking." He is overweight and overdoses on cans of beer. 

Mary finds him repulsive. She prefers to set her sights Tom and Gerri's son Joe (Oliver Maltman), who is on a visit to his parents. She hasn't seen him since he was 10 years old, but now that he's all grown up, she flirts with him outrageously. 

The increasingly awkward encounters include such Leigh veterans as Imelda Staunton and Phil Davis in small roles while stage actor David Bradley makes a deep impression as Tom's grieving brother. By the end of it all there's been a funeral and the promise of a wedding. Leigh emerges as totally in control of his material, driven by the characters rather than the plot. Nothing much may seem to have happened but the journey into everyday lives and human frailties proves constantly engrossing and satisfying.

Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Oliver Maltman, Imelda Staunton
Director/Screenwriter: Mike Leigh
Producer: Georgina Lowe
Genre: Drama
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 130 min.
Release date: TBD


Tags: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Oliver Maltman, Imelda Staunton, Mike Leigh, Georgina Lowe

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