I will never be president of Mike Leigh’s fan club. His natural settings and lighting are great, but so many of his thespians need to a-r-t-i-c-u-l-a-t-e like your least favourite teacher. The DECLAIMING put me off “Vera Drake” and “Happy-Go-Lucky”. I find my shallow side longing for a car crash.
And yet, “Another Year” is a good and entertaining movie. Yes, they still are Actors and Actresses and that can annoy. But the story is engaging and worth telling.
Tom and Gerri – there are laughs of the wry and knowing variety here – are smug marrieds with an allotment and a son they dote on in equal measures. Gerri is a counsellor and Tom is a geologist, which leads to lots of mining (get it?) of the human and soil varieties.
There are dinner parties and a funeral, set over a year. Hence, the title. It’s almost Russian in the way in which the miseries of the friends are contrasted with the happiness of Tom and Gerri. The writing and acting sparkle and I see the point of Leigh, finally.
Jim Broadbent as Tom and Ruth Sheen as Gerri both bring nuanced, distinctive and warm performances to their lead roles. But the movie is stolen by a glorious Lesley Manville as a seriously deluded fifty-something who is pretending to be much younger than she is. She causes her own unhappiness – was anyone ever so ditzy – but cannot see or remedy it.
It helps that the whole thing moves along nicely and the definition of the seasons enhances and lifts this to a higher level than the usual dinner party movie. Leigh is saying some interesting things about age and sadness. He tackles death, not quite head-on, but in a rather warm and English sideways set of glances.
All the acting is wonderful. Oliver Maltman as son Joe and Karina Fernandez as Katie make a sharp contrast to the mostly older cast. Peter Wight as friend Ken and David Bradley as Tom’s brother Ronnie exemplify lost chances and deep sadness.
Martin Savage brings great style and anger to his part as Ronnie’s son Carl. And the amazing cast almost throws away Imelda Staunton, who plays the most astonishing bit part as an unhappy client of Gerri’s. Never was suppression more graphically portrayed.
But it’s Lesley Manville’s film from start to finish. Her face says volumes and her performance never falters. Her refrain of “but everybody feels that, don’t they?” is deeply chilling and acts as lead and as Greek chorus.
If you’re a Leigh fan, you will love this. If not, you will still probably enjoy it because it’s deeply likeable.