Mike Leigh's 'Another Year'


4 stars

In the opening scene of

writer/director Mike Leigh's subtly heartbreaking ensemble drama Another Year, a tight-faced,

50-something woman named Janet (Imelda Staunton) visits a doctor for help with

insomnia. It's clear she's personally miserable, though she's not interested in

delving into the reasons for her unhappiness either with the physician, or with

counselor Geri (Ruth Sheen). When Geri tells Janet, "Change is frightening,"

Janet practically snarls in reply, "Nothing changes."

Janet never appears again

in Another Year, yet that departing

sentiment reverberates throughout the narrative. Leigh has crafted a character

study addressing a particular point in life, and the particular point of view

with which someone might view reaching a time when most of the patterns are

long established. It's not a story about growing old; it's about the

circumstances that allow someone to be at peace — or not — with

doing so.

Over the course of a

single year, broken into four seasonally themed segments, Leigh follows the

group of people who orbit around Geri and her husband Tom (Jim Broadbent), an

engineering geologist. Their grown son, Joe (Oliver Maltman),

frequently drops by to visit; Geri's co-worker Mary (Lesley Manville), a motormouthed free spirit, is also a regular visitor. And in

one segment, Tom's old college chum Ken (Peter Wight) comes to stay as well. No

particular event kicks the plot into some great drama, though awkwardness

attends Joe's surprise introduction of a new girlfriend (Karina Fernandez) in

the autumn. They simply reveal themselves to us, in all their contentment and


The most wonderful thing

about Leigh's Oscar-nominated original screenplay is that it finds lovely

observations at both ends of that spectrum. Manville's Mary tends to dominate

any scene she's in — both in the context of the film, and for viewers

— and it's understandable that Manville received several critics-groups

awards for her performance. But Broadbent and Sheen might actually be even

better in roles that are far less showy; it's not often that actors are allowed

to inhabit what appears to be a strong, happy marriage with intelligence and

good humor. The whirlwind of Mary's various emotional crises may overwhelm

everything in its path, but they wouldn't resonate in the same way without the

gentle, stable center of Tom and Geri.


Year loses some of its momentum in the final "Winter"

segment, but Leigh pulls it all back together for closing scenes that make it

clear where Mary fits in with this extended family—or, more to the point,

that despite her emotional dependence on Geri, she isn't actually part of that

family. As Tom and Geri's dinner table recollection of their first years together fades into a silence that surrounds Mary,

Leigh lingers on her for uncomfortable moments. Another year has passed for her

— and for Tom and Geri — a year in which, perhaps, nothing changes.

And we're allowed to see how that same reality can be both a blessing, and a