Film of the week

Another Year (12A)

3.00

Starring: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, David Bradley

After the outbreak of cheeriness that was Mike Leigh's last film, Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), his latest reverts to the low spirits and bleak moments we usually associate with his not-quite-comedies of manners. The opening scene of Another Year involves a distracted, unsmiling woman, played by Imelda Staunton, tersely fencing off a medical counsellor who's been trying to get to the bottom of her insomnia. "On a scale of one to 10 how happy would you say you are?" The patient briefly considers: "One."

The film takes its theme, if not its mood, from that exchange. It is essentially about depression, specifically late-middle-age depression, though its two most central characters are a long- and happily-married couple. They would be Gerri (Ruth Sheen), the aforementioned counsellor, and her engineer husband, Tom (Jim Broadbent), whose easygoing relationship revolves around their garden allotment in north London. These two have discovered in each other a deep contentment, the sort which seems mysterious to the likes of Gerri's colleague Mary (Lesley Manville), a nervy single woman who tries to keep her unhappiness in check by talking a great deal. She battens on Gerri and Tom in a slightly parasitic way (she wants to know their secret), and has a hopeless, unspoken crush on their 30-year-old son Joe (Oliver Maltman). "She's almost like an aunt to Joe," says Gerri, fondly. "I wouldn't say that," Mary squawks, horrified.

Leigh structures the film around the four seasons of the year, which end up as four slices of life rather than an organic whole. His famous intensive methods of rehearsal and improvisation allow characters room to develop at the expense of telling much of a story. Scenes tend to go on for too long and throw one's concentration; more than ever before I found myself admiring the acting while questioning the authenticity of what's actually happening. With Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent that technique is fine. They are so relaxed in their kind-hearted geniality as to be almost telepathic, like two fluent jazz-players riffing off each other. You feel you might know these people, and like them. The problem role here is the grandstanding dynamic one that so often features in a Mike Leigh film – think David Thewlis in Naked, Brenda Blethyn in Secrets and Lies, and to a certain extent even Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky.

This time it's Lesley Manville as Mary, who maintains such a sharp note of neediness that she almost impales herself on it. As garrulous as Miss Bates, as terrified of ageing as Blanche DuBois, Mary twitches away unstoppably, her self-pity inflamed by the accelerant of white wine. Now and then the camera silently pauses on her face, and Manville lets us see every contour of fear and loneliness etched upon it. But soon she's spouting off again, about her exes, her misadventures, her malfunctioning car. It's too much, and the strain tells in the script. I have never heard three people talking together who repeatedly address one another by name ("Is that right, Mary" "Yes, Tom", etc). This (I would guess) is a result of Leigh's overcontrolling his actors, whereby their determination to act like "real people" crosses over into self-parody.

The film presents Mary with a matching character, Ken (Peter Wight), Tom's old friend from school who comes down to stay with him and Gerri every year. Ken works in a government employment office in Hull. (This may or may not be a wink to Philip Larkin: the film partakes of the poet's gloom, though not of his verbal concision and elegance). Like Mary, he's lonely and relies too much on booze – "Less Thinking, More Drinking" reads the sad slogan on his T-shirt. Ken is rather sweet on Mary, but she's brusque and impatient with him. Will she melt? It doesn't matter: this potential storyline is left for dead when Ken disappears from the picture, never to return. Which makes you wonder why Leigh bothered to introduce him to us in the first place. Character in this setting is like a variety act that comes on stage, does a turn, then clears off – just as Imelda Staunton does after her one scene.

It happens again in the last section, "Winter", when Tom asks his widowed brother Ronnie to stay with them in London for a few days. David Bradley, who plays him, does as fine a job as Peter Wight in suggesting a certain middle-aged depressive who's lost his way in the world. Ronnie's affliction isn't drink but a chronic inability to connect with people, evidenced in the monosyllabic miserliness of his chat. When Mary calls at the house she finds Ronnie there alone, and we watch another Leigh masterclass in social awkwardness played out, a duet between someone who doesn't know how to start a conversation and someone who doesn't know how to stop. But this too has no link to anything thereafter, the focus switching instead to some unexplained misdemeanour on Mary's part that alienated Gerri between autumn and winter.

Fans and defenders will say that what Leigh shows us is real life, "another year" that trundles along in its eventless, humdrum way, sometimes light and jolly, more often sorrowful and wretched. But do we really go to the cinema for a facsimile of real life? Surely it is not mere accuracy we want from movies, but dramatic propulsion, shape and meaning, even transcendence. Art is the stuff that makes "real life" tellable, and thus, in a small way, survivable. Another Year offers what nearly every Mike Leigh film does, a handful of funny lines and acting out of the top-drawer. It will probably win many awards. But it's far from great.



Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee