Watched Another Year over the weekend:
which gave me a whole new reason to love the work of Mike Leigh. It’s a deeply moving, compassionate view of growing old and the isolation that can follow. Once again, Leigh relies on a cast of what must be some of his favourite actors, most notably Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight and Lesley Manville and, as ever, he manages to capture some truly marvellous performances.
The story focuses on the passing of the seasons over the course of a single year, each season presented through a single meal that takes place sometime within it. The main characters Tom and Gerri (genius), played by Broadbent and Sheen respectively, work on their allotment over the course of the year, their efforts providing some of the ingredients for the meals. It’s a well used device in both film and novels, showing a family of characters through their interaction over the course of a series of meals (or the failure to complete one in the case of Anne Tyler’s brilliant Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant) but Leigh makes it his own through the warmth of his characters and the deftness of their interplay over the course of the film.
It might be easy to dismiss such an openly domestic film as lacking in visual appeal, but many of the scenes are striking. Throughout Leigh composes portraits of the various seasons, be it Gerri and Tom huddled in the shed/shelter on their allotment, sharing a flask of tea as the rain pours down around them, the family gathered in the living room of a Hull terrace awaiting the arrival of a hearse, the desperately lonely Mary (Manville) alone at a pub table sipping wine to combat her isolation, or Ken’s transformative moment in Gerri and Tom’s garden, when, overcome with grief for a friend, he is held by Gerri and the years wash away, somehow leaving behind a frightened boy in place of the middle-aged-almost-elderly-man. These images are reminscent of Kubrick’s best shots in that they capture a moment with the eye of a portrait artist, but they seem all the more powerful for the apparent mundanity of their subject. Kubrick’s subject matter added weight to his shots. Here, Leigh’s weight comes from the depth of his characters. They say most in those moments where they say nothing at all.
All of which should come as no surprise. Mike Leigh films are like the moving picture equivalent of a great British novel. His characters are warm and flawed and their actions, even the most mundane, especially the most mundane, are full of meaning. They are brilliant because on the surface not much happens, but under their skin beats a passionate, desperate, all too human heart. Another Year is another classic examination of everyday life and the extraordinary emotions that lie just beneath its surface.