In tight, Cassavetes-style close-up, Imelda Staunton’s Janet is asking her doctor for some sleeping pills. A blistering portrait of depression, resentment and emotional inarticulacy, her eyes speak volumes of a life hard-lived, and this extended prologue promises a change of direction from the whimsy and determined positivism of Mike Leigh’s less successful previous feature Happy Go Lucky (2008). Reminiscent of mid-period Woody Allen (particularly Hannah And Her Sisters, 1986), it’s an impeccably performed and psychologically complex study of late middle age relationships, (dis)contentment and loneliness, love, grief and neuroses, it’s also brilliantly funny and up there with his best work.
Divided into four seasonal sections, we meet Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) in Spring, happily married for more than thirty years, they’ve a grown-up son Joe (Oliver Maltman) and a beloved allotment. Tom is a geologist, Gerri a counsellor (for Janet in the pre-credits scenes) and its around this hub of loving stability that the narrative and their various friends and family revolve. Front and centre is Mary (Lesley Manville), a whirlwind of nervous energy and sadness, neediness and jealousy masked behind a push up bra and wine by the bottle. She’s a brilliantly realised creation from Manville and Leigh, instantly recognisable but far from a stereotype, a desperate and ultimately tragic character and the eternal victim of her own life choices and bad luck with men.
The entire ‘story’ evolves through character, shifting relationships and interactions, with the comedy primarily being one of social awkwardness (occasionally a little broad) and the pathos well-earned. Knowing the lengths to which Leigh goes with his actors to bring their creations to the screen, it’s astonishing how effortless it feels. His most psychologically probing and observationally astute film since Naked (1993), although All Or Nothing (2002) comes close, there’s a welcome new aggression to his camera here, punishingly tight at times (such as Staunton’s prologue) whilst at others icily detached (Mary framed though the kitchen doorway, embarrassed and alone after turning up uninvited).
Its contemplative tone and structure live up to the title, this is just another year for its protagonists, the events the same as any other, and arguably none of them go on any particular personal journey or undergo profound personal change, the heartbreaking final shot suggesting resignation rather than realisation. There are any number of brilliantly realised sequences, but the final ‘Winter’ section concerning Tom’s grief stricken brother Ronnie (David Bradley, great) and his son Carl (Martin Savage) stands out, emotionally wrought with pent-up rage and dislocation.
This is Manville’s film though and deservedly so, it’s an awards worthy performance with many a wonderfully nuanced scene, from her alcoholic confessionals and flirtations with Joe to the cringingly vituperative exchange when introduced to his new girlfriend Katie (Karina Fernandez), she’s a tornado of highly strung emotions and one of the finest creations from a filmmaker at the top of his game.
Another Year – 2010 – United Kingdom – 129 mins – Dir : Mike Leigh
Screening as The Mayor Of London Gala at the London Film Festival on Monday 18th, Wednesday 20th & Thursday 21st October. Tickets available at www.bfi.org.uk/lff
Another Year goes on general release on Friday 5th November