Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) have managed to remain blissfully happy into their autumn years, but over the course of four seasons of one average year, their happiness contrasts with the unhappiness of friends, colleagues, and family. Mary (Lesley Manville), who works as a secretary where Gerri is a counsellor, is a long divorced single aching for male company - or just company; Ken (Peter Wright) is an overindulgent loner but not by choice; Ronnie (David Bradley) is Tom's withdrawn and grieving brother, whose son Carl (Martin Savage) is estranged and angry.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Another Mike Leigh movie ... with all the sadness and happiness that Leigh can staple onto the screen in the amalgam that is life around him, where people are for the most part unhappy, lonely, yearning. And those that aren't only help to emphasise the misery of the rest of us. Take Tom and Gerri - the happy elderly couple close to retirement who have learned to live with their cartoon names - living a peaceful life together, planting vegies in their tiny allotment garden somewhere in outer London in the spring, commuting back and forth to mend the miniature farm in the summer and harvest in autumn. A comfortable couple who speak in the shorthand of mutual understanding.
Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen are wonderful, perfectly at ease in their relationship and content with their simple life. Tom is an engineering geologist ('he digs holes'), Gerri works as a counsellor in a hospital. This is where our story starts, but not with Gerri; a close up of Imelda Staunton's conflicted face takes us inside the unhappy world of Janet, who is seeing the pregnant doctor Tanya (Michelle Austin) wanting sleeping pills. But it's not pills she needs, it's counselling, to try and unbundle her taut nerves and find the root cause of her depression.
This extended sequence sets the mournful tone which is upended when we meet Tom and Gerri. But not long before Gerri's colleague of 20 years, Mary (Lesley Manville), comes over for dinner and has a bit too much to drink (as usual) as she bares her lonely soul. Chronically, desperately alone, Mary chose the wrong man for her husband, and when they broke up she met a lovely man ... who was married.
Such is her life and she feels entirely sorry for herself, but Tom and Gerri are supportive as best they can. Another evening and Ken (Peter Wright) turns up, a real match for Mary in the loneliness stakes, equally overindulgent in drink (and in food). Perhaps Leigh is a bit too obvious here and Wright is allowed to overdo the ugly, gluttonous behaviour). The pattern repetition of a male version of Mary is unnecessary - or mismanaged. Because there's more, when we meet Tom's almost silent brother Ronnie (David Bradely) prior to the funeral of his wife.
Tom and Gerri's 30 year old son Joe (Oliver Maltman) is also living a normal life, and he brings with him a breath of fresh outside air. Sadly, this only makes things worse for Mary.
Leigh wants the juxtapose of the happy couple with the rest of the world to show how most people are unhappy - and that unhappiness is largely due to loneliness, whether actual or emotional. In the end, it becomes a film about tragic Mary, for whom another year has come and gone - and nothing has improved. Life is short on happy solutions to such problems.
The film is book ended by the sad faces of the two different women, Janet and Mary, both denying themselves the chance to seek help other than in pills or alcohol. Another Year is a film of great truths, but it is stretched too thin in parts with superfluous material - fillers which Leigh wants to use as added texture. But with this quality writing and casting, who needs added texture. Economy would be a better objective, sharpening the narrative. All the same, a moving, sensitive film by a craftsman adept at ripping open our hearts.
Review by Louise Keller:
Just like the garden that they tend, Mike Leigh's central characters in this heartfelt character based drama, are nurturers. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen's Tom and Gerri may share names with cartoon characters, but they are solidly ground when it comes to their marriage and there is no conflict between them. They are cocooned in happiness which is no doubt what draws lonely singles struggling to cope to their stable home. Lesley Manville's Mary, a lonely middle-aged woman who drinks and talks too much and yearns for the impossible is the most tragic of these, and who delivers the greatest impact.
Those familiar with Leigh's films will know he is a director who delves deep into the psyche of his lower middle class characters and reveals plenty from the minutia of every day situations and reactions to simple things. Here, in a construct comprising the four seasons of a single year, we are drawn into the reality of Tom and Gerri, whose every day happiness is a sharp contrast to that of their friends and relations.
It is spring when the film begins, but there are no hopes of new beginnings for Imelda Staunton's anxious, insomniac Janet, who rates herself 1 out of 10 on the happiness graph. She is talking to a counselor colleague of Sheen's Gerri, whose pragmatic approach and tone borders on the unsympathetic. Everyone needs someone to talk to, Manville's Mary tells Gerri, and talk she does, making us acutely aware that she always gets it wrong - in life's big and little things. She is desperate for a man, but throws herself on the wrong one, making a fool of herself over Tom and Gerri's younger, disinterested son Joe (Oliver Maltman), and disdainfully disregards the available, overweight, unhappy and lonely Ken (Peter Wight is excellent), whose potential and her own mirror image she does not see. All the performances are superb, especially Manville, whose plight weighs heavily on us.
The seasons pass and while Tom and Gerri's life is constant, there are emotional traumas and voids for the others including Tom's grieving widower brother Ronnie (David Bradley) whose nadir coincides with the tense arrival of his animosity-filled son. The film offers many priceless, albeit simple moments, many of which feature Mary in all her stages of despair and angst; we feel like reaching out, patting her on the back and comforting her by saying 'There, there, it will be all right'.
Like life, there are no easy solutions in this film about life, relationships, dreams and woes. It's insightful, absorbing and moving and we feel as though we have spent some time with these ordinary people living out their ordinary lives as they cope with the tumultuous emotional issues and ups and downs that face us all. Be prepared to have your heart wrenched as Mary struggles to keep afloat in a bottle neck of self-pity. If you are a people watcher or a Mike Leigh fan, you are guaranteed a fascinating journey.
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ANOTHER YEAR (M)
CAST: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Oliver Maltman, Peter Wright, David Bradley, Martin Savage, Karina Fernandez, Imelda Staunton
PRODUCER: Georgina Lowe
DIRECTOR: Mike Leigh
SCRIPT: Mike Leigh
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dick Pope
EDITOR: Jon Gregory
MUSIC: Gary Yershon
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Simon Beresford
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 27, 2011