Mike Leigh – what can be said about this unique director renowned for his semi-scripted, semi-adlibbed films? That’s what I thought before watching this, his latest effort. Having recently watched (again) his wonderful early pieces Abigail’s Party and Nuts In May, I was feeling very generous towards him and this movie. The trouble is I had forgotten all those films in-between.
Gradually, the gentle, yet piercing, satirical observations of what are, basically, rather sad yet optimistic people has given way to emphasising how utterly horrible life can be – if you let it. The wonderfully na�ve Candice-Marie in Nuts In May has morphed into the �ber-miserable Mary in this film. No doubt Mike Leigh has his reasons for going in this direction but I find the unrelenting, depressive misery of Another Year too much to take. There seem to be no redeeming features in this film and the element of satire seems to have disappeared altogether.
The overall tone of the film is set in the first few minutes where we see depressed Janet (Imelda Staunton) looking completely wretched and desolate when trying to prise a few sleeping tablets from her GP. We then move into the story, except that Mike Leigh doesn’t really ‘do plot’ which curiously, and to me to no good purpose, is split into four chapters: spring, summer, autumn, and winter.
Mary (Lesley Manville) is a secretary at the GP’s surgery, and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), an attached counsellor, is her friend and, we discover, a quite frequent visitor to Gerri’s house, which she shares with husband Tom (Jim Broadbent). A second curiosity: why give this couple the names Tom and Gerri? No reason at all to me and just rather silly. Said Tom and Gerri are an over-smug couple living in apparent bliss (but who knows!) spending time on their allotment producing vegetables to be eaten when entertaining their little group of misery-gut visitors.
Of course, despite early light-heartedness from Mary, she soon slides into a display of manic unhappiness based on her inability to land a man. Not too surprising, if you ask me. Another frequent guest is her male counterpart Ken (Peter Wright) an overweight, alcoholic smoker, also searching for a mate and (again not surprisingly) failing to find one. Need I go on? I don’t really want to mention the virtually non-communicative widowed brother of Tom – but he’s another one. Join the gang.
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All the time we are asked to contrast these unfortunates with the wonderfully content Tom and Gerri and, later on, their son Joe (Oliver Maltman) and new girlfriend Katie (Karina Fernandez). So the chapters unfold with the seasons passing and misery increasing, if that is possible. What can I say: for, me unrelenting gloom for two hours and to what end. Yes, some people are happier than others; yes, a partner can make a difference; and, yes, self-pity is a killer. Not much of a revelation that.
Acting wise, Lesley Manville is the obvious star, pulling-out all the stops and then even more (some might think rather too many) as she descends into the slough of despair. All in all, not a pretty sight and not the way I want to spend two hours watching it. On the basis of this showing, we should all feel for Mike Leigh.