After the surprisingly upbeat Happy-Go-Lucky, Mike Leigh returns with this contemplative and bittersweet examination of late middle aged life. Split into four parts, each set in a different season, Another Year focuses on a married couple in their early 60s. Geological engineer Tom (Jim Broadbent) and NHS counsellor Jerry (Ruth Sheen) lead a contented existence in suburban North London, working hard on their allotment and entertaining family and friends at their home. One of their regular visitors, Mary (Lesley Manville), a twice-divorced colleague of Jerry’s, appears to be a cheerful, extrovert individual. But her reliance on alcohol masks her loneliness and fearfulness, and she is jealous of the new romantic relationship enjoyed by Tom and Jerry’s adult son Jo (Oliver Maltman). Meanwhile Tom’s old single friend Ken (Peter Wight) is also seeking refuge in booze and is consumed by self-loathing.
With Another Year Leigh is working in a microscopic register, primarily observing his characters in the domestic sphere. It’s a story, which unfolds over cups of tea, glasses of wine, and chats round the kitchen table and garden barbecue. In conventional terms the major dramatic episode is a winter funeral in Derby for the wife of Tom’s older brother Ronnie (David Bradley), and even here Leigh concentrates on the familial interactions within the withdrawn widower’s cramped house. The cyclical narrative can’t be reduced to a high-concept pitch, yet the film turns out to be ‘about’ so many themes: ageing, the imminence of death, sibling relationships, marriage, parenting, childlessness, friendship, depression, loneliness, the desire for happiness.
The ensemble cast, many of whom are regular collaborators of the director, respond with impressive performances. There are none of the caricatures that occasionally crop up in Leigh’s films, and in particular Manville movingly conveys Mary’s gradual emotional unravelling. Thanks to Dick Pope’s quietly assured cinematography, which expertly captures the passing of time, this feels like Leigh’s most Ozu-esque work to date. As Jerry observes to Mary, in a line that is reminiscent of Tokyo Story, ‘Life isn’t always kind, is it?’
Selected release from Fri 5 Nov.