Product has been added to the basket

Another Year Review

Mike Leigh, director, Another Year, on location at Battersea Power Station

Another Year

Released by: Momentum Pictures
Writer/Director: Mike Leigh
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Oliver Maltman, David Bradley, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Imelda Staunton
Running time: 129 minutes
UK Certificate: TBC (USA – PG-13)
UK General Release: 5 November

“The geologist stands on the beach with his back to the sea, looking at the cliffs.”

“And the geologist’s wife stands with her back to the cliffs, looking at the sea.”

Another Year is a title no one but Mike Leigh could get away with, and he does it in style. There’s a geologist’s sense of time to the premise of the film – it records events, not because they are particularly significant or catastrophic, but because they provide a snapshot of what life is like in a particular place, at a particular time, in meticulous detail.

Tom and Gerri are one of life’s ‘happy couples’ - those people who invite you to dinner a lot, and make you feel slightly insecure about your own life. They’re allotment people, the sort of people who send you outside the back door to smoke but are terribly nice about it, who drink buckets of wine but never get drunk (except in a chatty, intelligent sort of way) and who can at once be incredibly kind, and incredibly patronising.

More importantly for this magazine, Tom is a geologist – not the volcano-chasing hero-geologist or the idealistic, truth-seeking palaeontologist types that will be familiar to film audiences , but an engineering geologist working on London’s ageing sewer system. Leigh and Broadbent’s research for the part, as Paul Maliphant’s article outlines, was painstaking, and it shows. Not only is the ‘Macfadden Belcher’ scene, complete with high-viz jackets and industrial machinery, entirely believable, but Tom’s character is spot on – he giggles with delight as a core sample of London clay is presented for his inspection, and makes all the right sort of ‘I dig holes for a living’ jokes, while his wife bemoans his interest in strata on their holidays.

He is also one of the film’s rare ‘happy’ characters - as is Gerri, a medical counsellor. Other professions fare less well – Mary the medical secretary is on the point of a breakdown for most of the film, while Ken the civil servant can’t seem to get over the fact that time has moved on, and everything around him has changed. There’s a slightly worrying suggestion that singledom is at the root of their problems, and that it is in each other that Tom and Gerri have found happiness. But Leigh’s argument is really about the lottery that is ‘being happy’ – some people find what they’re looking for, and some don’t. The ones that do seem to find much of their happiness in their work – as Tom’s son’s new girlfriend Katie, an occupational therapist, tells him: “It’s nice to go home at the end of the day and feel you’ve contributed to something”.

Like all Leigh’s work, Another Year is beautifully understated. The stand-out performance is Lesley Manville’s Mary. Everyone has a friend like Mary, blissfully unaware that their thin veneer of bubbly happiness isn’t fooling anyone. Her eventual collapse is both real and inevitable, and Leigh bravely makes no attempt to suggest there is anything good waiting around the corner for her. Despite moments which some might find a little too bleak, or even stereotypically so – Tom’s taciturn, bereaved Northern brother, for instance – the film also manages to be very, very funny. And the good news for geologists in the audience is that, in the mike Leigh happiness-lottery equation, the geologist comes out on top.

Sarah Day