Another Year

Director – Mike Leigh, 2010

What with the whopping wounds delivered blow by blow to the arts scene in the UK, and the consequential resignation of the UK Film Council chief executive shortly before the institution was dealt a permanent fade-out; to watch such an astoundingly accurate depiction of modern British society, supported by a small but vital £1.2 million from the now defunct committee, feels a lot like the most patriotic cinema experience ever. Along with  the likes of Clint Eastwood, director Mike Leigh even wrote a letter of complaint to our beloved coalition protesting the way in which the 10-year-old Labour-generated agency was exterminated.

Tom (Jim Broadbent) has been married to Gerri (Ruth Sheen) for what we can only assume to be a number of years in the region of donkey’s, since their relationship is one of such contentment the kind only time can nurture, and apart from the time spent at their North London allotment, they live their life constantly surrounded by unhappy people. The most striking of which is Mary (Leslie Manville), an anxious Quinquagenarian (50-59 years old) divorced and then dumped by her married lover. Endlessly jealous of Tom and Gerri’s (ohhh, the cat and mouse!) effortless happiness, she takes to invading their space , albeit invited, in an empty bid to discover their secret for success without much success. She has an awkward crush on their son Joe (Oliver Maltman) and like her character’s counterpart Ken, a tendency to flood her sorrows with booze.

The selection of characters that we follow in this typically Leigh slice-of-life are so painfully real, by the end of this year that we happen to have been flung straight into, all personalities and traits are firmly imprinted on our minds long after we leave. It may all sound deeply depressing, but like a compulsory jab before a holiday; it is in fact the painful injection of realism we actually need.

The last thing anyone requires is another new variation on the escapist far-fetched love fantasy that inevitably ends in total perfection and as a result causes all normal citizens to challenge the merit of their own relationships.

One particular twenty-something girl left the showing utterly convinced she’d just witnessed a prognostication of herself in Mary: stating her own evolution was merely ‘five years’ away. The substance will differ for people dependent upon age with this film, the youngsters thinking “thank god! there is still time” alongside the middle-aged Tom and Gerri “thank god! we’re sorted” type. Even the Ken and Marys who see this will  just be glad they are not the only ones with problems, and this is a good thing.

Leslie Manville in real life is in fact twice divorced (one of which to Gary Oldman (Harry Potter)), and her jittery character whose babble suggests fear of silence in social situations screams out for attachment so much so, that a marriage between her and the audience is formed. Of course this is a useless metaphor (I’m sure she would marry us all) and her desperation often borders on overwhelming; intense performances that are perfectly complimented by visually dull scenes and a sparse score that utilises a simple folk violin.

Two extremes exist when Jim Broadbent, David Bradley and Imelda Staunton finish Another Year almost as a side-project, inferior to its Hollywood big-budget-blockbuster Harry Potter finale about to dominate box offices worldwide. Support British cinema and go watch this emotionally clasping piece as well.

James Godwin, December 2nd, 2010

Copyright © 2010. James Godwin. All rights reserved.