You don't have to be arty, cultured or even 'in the know' to love Mike Leigh's latest, Another Year. All you have to be is honest and human. The opening moments of the film are slightly misleading as we see the brilliant Imelda Staunton - star of Leigh's phenomenal Vera Drake while also being Professor Umbridge of the Harry Potter films to everyone else - being examined by a doctor, awkwardly giving the audience hints into her chequered family life.
In fear of getting quite a harsh, downbeat, examination of a modern broken British family, the focus shifts from her altogether into slightly more upbeat circumstances. The real story is channelled through a man called Tom (Jim Broadbent) and his wife Gerri (Ruth Sheen) - a perfectly happy professional married couple - living their lives through the progressing seasons of one year, each segment told in, almost, a short story narrative, quite reminiscent of September's wonderful Tamara Drewe. The real stars however are the perfect couple's not so perfect friends.
While Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen's causal, witty and ever so knowing chemistry is absolutely tremendous on screen, it was the wonderful Lesley Manville's portrayal of their rather lonely, needy and emotionally unstable friend, Mary, which sets the film apart. It was really quite captivating watching some of her, socially awkward but completely mesmerising, scenes which conjured smiles, sniggers, laughs and occasionally making me close my eyes or turn away, on account of being so hideously cringe-worthy. I mean this in the best way possible, mainly because it was, at times, so relatable.
Almost everyone who watches Another Year will undoubtedly say they have a friend like Mary, hell if you were honest enough you may even observe you are, indeed, that friend. Unless a gross injustice comes Manville's way, don't be surprised to find her listed amongst best actress or best supporting actress categories come award season in the new year.
Equally fascinating but not featured as heavily was Peter Wight's appearance as Tom's long-time friend, Ken. Like a mirror imagine to Manville's Mary, he's a lonely ageing man with his best years behind him, grossly overweight with drinking, eating and smoking habits which just aren't in line with the overly health conscious society we live in today. He is obviously aware of his health problems - seemingly helping him cope with previous family and friends passing away.
Strangely similar to the needy nature of Wight and Manville's characters was the understated performance of David Bradley as Broadbent's estranged and less well-off brother Ronnie. Reeling from the death of his wife and forever battling with his rebellious son feels wry of how he will be able to live without someone caring for him.
The whole movie feels more like a beautifully written play on the West End, than a genuine cinematic experience - substituting intermissions and seasonal transitions for moments of Broadbent and Sheen's ventures into their eco-friendly produce garden full of fruit and vegetables. Gary Yershon's absolutely gorgeous classical score must also be praised, for adding a real sense of elegance to film.
Another Year was never about creating another meandering plot going nowhere until the characters inexplicitly discovered some sort of divine, liberating, epiphany. This was, quite simply, a very honest exploration into the modern relationships people can develop with their friends and family - combining the triumphs of love, wisdom and companionship with the painful awareness of loneliness, despair and the realisation of one's own mortality. A real testament to the rich and enthralling talent currently found in this particular era of British cinema. Mike Leigh: Another Year. Another Hit.
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Another Year is in selected cinemas from November 5th 2010.