Director Mike Leigh
With Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville
Released 5 November
Their names might not suggest a stable relationship, but Tom and Gerri get along a lot better than their cartoon soundalikes. They've been happily married for decades, and they're just as blessed in other areas of life. Both have successful careers—Tom (Jim Broadbent) as an industrial geologist, and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) as a therapist—and they enjoy pottering on their allotment at weekends. They don't hear from their grown-up son (Oliver Maltman) as much as they'd like, but the hero and heroine of Mike Leigh's new film, Another Year, are at least as cheerful as any of the characters in the writer-director's long filmography.
Naturally, you're waiting for tragedy to strike. Cinema being cinema, you assume that one of them is going to be killed or arrested or, at the very least, confess to a passionate affair. To quote an earlier Leigh title, you know there must be secrets and lies somewhere. But no. The film takes us through a year in the couple's life, and in many ways, as the title promises, it's just another year for them—no more significant than the one before or after. They meet a new baby, but it's not the child of any character we care about, and they go to a funeral, but it doesn't mark the death of anyone who's been in the film already. It's remarkable, then, that Another Year is as powerful and moving as it is.
The film is divided into four sections, one for each season, and each one hinges on a meal that Tom and Gerri are hosting for various friends. It's the sharp contrast between the couple's contentment and these friends' gnawing dissatisfaction that gives the film its bittersweet flavour. There's Gerri's colleague, Mary (Lesley Manville), whose hyperactive positivity masks desperation—and only thinly. There's Ken (Peter Wight), Tom's hard-drinking old mate, who feels lost in a world where every form of entertainment seems to be aimed at people a generation or two younger than he is. And there's Tom's monosyllabic brother, Ronnie (David Bradley), whose life could hardly be more different from Tom's.
Leigh's topic is the fine line that can separate a joyous existence and a miserable one. It's a heart-warming, funny celebration of friendship, family, love and marriage, made with a simple sincerity that's rarely seen on the big screen. But it's also an acknowledgement of the chill that can be felt, as another year passes, by those who have missed out on a connection as close as Tom and Gerri's. It's one of Leigh's best films—but don't go to see it by yourself.Nicholas Barber