Directed by: Mike Leigh
Written by:Mike Leigh
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Oliver Maltman, Peter Wight, David Bradley
Released: January 27, 2011
Grade: A

Mike Leigh is a wonderful filmmaker.  That statement will come as no surprise to those who have seen his previous works (Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky).  I always walk away feeling much love for his ordinary, everyday characters and the ordinary, everyday world they inhabit.  He certainly has a knack for capturing the “human condition”.

Another Year is more of the same.  It revolves around two sixty-somethings who have been happily married for many years.  Tom (Broadbent) is a geologist and Gerri (Sheen) is a medical counsellor.  They spend their spare time catching up with friends and tending to their vegetable garden.  They don’t mind a quiet drink either.

They may not seem like the most exciting couple but Tom and Gerri enjoy life.  I know I’d love to have them as friends.  I can best describe them as a subtler version of the bubbly Sally Hawkins character in Happy-Go-Lucky.  They have a great spirit and don’t let their worries get them down.   I wish more people were like them.

The film is spread over the course of a year and features lengthy, dialogue driven sequences where Tom and Gerri catch up with friends and family.  These friends don’t always share the same rosy outlook on life.  They’ve got problems and when given a little alcohol, everything comes out into the open.  It’s like watching a train wreck unfold.  You dare not look and yet you cannot turn away.

The screenplay is fantastic but I’ll always remember this film for the touching performance of Lesley Manville.  She plays Mary, a long-time friend of Gerri who has never been able to find the right guy.  She’s got a lot of love to give but her actions are often misguided.  I don’t know how but I was laughing at her whilst feeling sorry for her at the same time.  It’s a shame that Manville hasn’t picked up more attention during the recent awards season.

For those unfamiliar, Mike Leigh uses a rather unorthodox method when creating his movies.  He starts no script and only a rough idea about the characters.  Once the actors are hired, he lets them develop the roles on their own before bringing them all together in a room.  He can then watch them interact (whilst in character) and the dialogue creates itself.   It may sound strange but this film proves how effective the method can be.

With plenty to say about the value of life, love and friendship, Another Year is one of Mike Leigh’s best.  Beautiful stuff.