Mike Leigh's drama, despite many loose ends, blind alleys and a prevailing air of despair, is gripping in its mordant fashion.
The "action" centres on a devoted, contented married couple, Tom and Gerri (Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent), who comfort a succession of damaged houseguests over the course of a year. Gerri, a medical counsellor, and Tom, a geological engineer, sit, listen and nod along to their needy friends' woes. Does it make them feel superior? Are they smugly feeding off these poor souls to make themselves feel better? Yes and yes. Their most regular visitor is hyper-anxious, twittering Mary (Lesley Manville), a fiftysomething singleton who has been screwed over by married men and who pines for a relationship with Tom and Gerri's 30-year-old lawyer son, Joe (Oliver Maltman). Mary clings to dullard Joe's side, constantly touching him; pleading with him to notice her. Are we meant to feel sympathy for self-satisfied Joe? I didn't. Mary needs to flee from these condescending parasites.
This desolute film is an excellent showcase for British actresses and its ambiguous (quite often excruciating) nature is ideal fodder for dinner-party quarrelling. However, the unquestionable star here is Manville, whose crushed flirt Mary personifies Maya Angelou's poem "Alone": "Alone, all alone/ Nobody, but nobody/ Can make it out here alone."Reuse content