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
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
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.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own