Thursday 2 December 2010

Another Year

I don't love films in the way that I love books - I enjoy seeing them, but find my short attention span is usually a bit bored by the end, and it's only the odd one or two that have give me the feelings I get from my favourite books. Usually these are adaptations of novels (I Capture the Castle) or films about authors (Finding Neverland) or both (The Hours). Occasionally a 1930s film will do it, but yesterday I watched a film that moved me and amused me and enthralled me in the way that my favourite novels do. And that film is Another Year, directed by Mike Leigh. The only other Mike Leigh films I've seen are Vera Drake, which I thought brilliant, and Abigail's Party, which works better on stage. I know he uses the same actors many times, and picks those who excel at improvisation - whatever he's doing, it works.

I saw the trailer a while ago, and thought it looked poignant and well-observed, and it is definitely both those things - but trailers rarely do justice to a film, and the one posted below is no exception. Having not seen it in November, when it was released, I was pleased to spot that it was showing at my favourite cinema in the world - the Ultimate Picture Palace. It's a one-screen cinema from the 1960s or 1970s, and still very much has that feel. But it's also incredibly friendly and quirky - they were selling mulled wine and mince pies last night, which were lovely - and shows interesting films, including older ones. Last year I saw Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes there, for example.

Another Year, like so many of the novels I love, is difficult to describe because not much happens. It shows a couple nearing retirement - Tom and Gerri (ho ho) played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen - going through a year of their life, and the lives of their friends. Gerri and Tom are a quietly contented married couple, happy and comfortable with each other, and I have never seen a more realistic portrayal of a normal marriage in film. Their lives are centred around work (Gerri is a counsellor [thanks David!]; Tom is a engineering geologist), the allotment, their son visiting at the weekends, their friends, and being together. There may be a rug waiting to be pulled from under my feet, and perhaps in many films they'd be shown up as smug or too middle class, but Mike Leigh seemed to have the sense simply to show them as they are.

In and out of their lives wander several friends, each slightly dysfunctional, but only in the way that people can be. Nothing unduly zany or far-fetched. Of these characters, although the film is indisputably an ensemble piece, one does stand out - in fact, she is in some ways the heart of the film. That is Mary, played brilliantly by Lesley Manville. She is a 40-something divorcee, lonely and clingy, only just self-aware enough to realise how unself-aware she is. Another Year is clever, though - at first Mary seems simply a chatty, flirty, slightly uncontrolled woman. Only as the film develops does her pain unravel, and manifest itself in bitterness or trying too hard to be the life and soul of a gathering. And yet she is a warm woman, and it is impossible to dislike her - but entirely possible to see how Gerri and Tom could grow weary of her.

Writing about Another Year is as difficult as writing about a finely-written novel, because every statement feels like a broad sweep, missing the subtlety of Mike Leigh's writing and direction, or the acting of an astonishingly good cast. It felt so 'real' - not a euphemism for gritty or unpleasant, as the word 'real' is so often used, but naturalistic and vital. The relationships were all believable, sometimes painfully so. Only Mary occasionally went a little too far, a little too 'drama' rather than 'life', but this was so occasionally that it couldn't mar a superb performance.

All this makes Another Year sound gloomy - and it is true that the lingering feeling is sadness. But whilst it was showing there were many moments where the cinema rang to the sound of audience laughter - some exceptional observational comedy - and some beautifully warm and touching moments. Like life, I suppose.

Oh, and you know when Judi Dench won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for a few minutes of screentime in Shakespeare in Love? Well, if there is any justice in the world, Imelda Staunton will win one for her part as a depressed insomniac patient of Gerri's. Sadly, she only appears for a few minutes, in the first handful of scenes - but my friend and I both spent the rest of the film longing for her to reappear. Every tiny movement of her face was transfixing. Any aspiring actor should have to sit and watch her performance - so restrained, but so informative.

All in all, as you can see, I was very impressed! Do go and see it if you have the chance, although it's probably not on in many places now. If you live near Oxford, you'll be able to go to the Ultimate Picture Palace - otherwise pre-order the DVD!

Which other Mike Leigh films would you recommend? I've gone and ordered All or Nothing and Happy-Go-Lucky, which are now winging their way from Amazon...


  1. I've been reading about this and would like very much to see it. I do love Mike Leigh but did not like Happy Go Lucky which I felt did not work.

  2. Dear Simon, you have reviewed a Mike Leigh film experience so well - perhaps you should morph into movie reviewing...

    I always look out for Mike Leigh films - they are the film equivalent of the novels I like ie not much plot, lots of ordinary life:

    All or Nothing is excellent but verges on depressing - everyday life with a low income and living on a London housing estate fairly grim.

    Happy Go Lucky also very urban and gritty but funny.

    Secrets and Lies depicting a very ordinary woman faced with an extraordinary family discovery, is the most brilliant for it's balancing of grim reality and the comedy of daily life.

    (Sorry I have been away so long - immersed in family life.)

  3. Love the sound of this! I adore Imelda Staunton. She made the last Harry Potter film for me, and her performance in Vera Drake was terrific.

    I ADORE Happy Go Lucky, it's one of my favourite films. Not everyone enjoys it, but if you go into it knowing it's not going to have a 'point' as such - which seems to be most people's complaint - I'm sure you'll really love it.

  4. You've probably seen it, but along the lines of your preferences I have to recommend the film written by the man who changed my life: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Horton Foote.

  5. I love the film Career Girls, about two friends from college who reunite some years later and try to rekindle their close friendship while running into people from that past. It's really sweet and I love the contrast between their punky college days in a bedsit and their adult lives.

  6. I'm not big on films either, but I was intrigued by the trailer for this one, and your comments have further convinced me that it would be a good movie to catch.

    I approach my next point with caution because I've only just finished apologising to a Guardian journalist for making a pedantic correction to one of her items. So please accept this as a friendly nudge rather than a brickbat ...

    I thought it was odd that you described Gerri's profession as that of a "councillor", since being a locally elected representative is not generally regarded as a job in Britain. It became apparent from what you went on to say that she is actually a "counsellor", i.e. a professional advisor. This was a rare slip on your part which can perhaps be accounted for by your post being written at the end of a long, cold day?

    I do hope this comes across correctly. For someone who aspires to the best behaviour in online dialogue, it would be embarrassing to have to make two grovelling apologies in one week.

  7. I'm not enough of a movie goer to know if that is over in my neck of the woods or not.

  8. Gracious, I'm all choked up! I must see this. And your movie taste is pretty perfect: I Capture the Castle, Finding Neverland, and the Hours?! ALL favorites, then you threw in the 1930's and I nearly fainted. We're twins!

  9. Life is Sweet is one I very strongly recommend. It introduced the film going public to the wonderful Jane Horrocks.

    The wonder, humour, tragedy and beauty of the domestic mundane.

  10. Looks very interesting - google says it opens in the US on Dec 31. Used to be more of a Mike Leigh fan back in the 90's, back when I still made the trek to art houses. Back when there were still "art houses"...

    Your Picture Palace looks delightful as well. Sigh, suppose I better start a new list for movie recommendations, to add to the "Simon says" books, Sunday music, etc, etc.



I've now moved to, and all my old posts are over there too - do come and say hello :)

I probably won't see your comment here, I'm afraid, but all my archive posts can also be found at