Last night I saw Mike Leigh’s new film “Another Year” at Cineworld in Brighton Marina. The cinema is looking a little shabby these days. The heating did not work and there was a strange smell which permeated the whole building.
Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen play Tom and Jerry, a happily married couple in late middle age with a 30 year old son. They lead fulfilled lives in interesting jobs and spend their spare time at the allotment or reading. Their friends are not so lucky. They consist of Lesley Manville playing Mary and Peter Wight playing Ken. Both are entering late middle age, both are unmarried and both drink.
From the beginning we see Mary gulping back wine greedily and later Ken with cans of beer in his pockets for a train journey. Both are outwardly happy but inwardly lonely. I imagine that many of us at this stage of life who are unmarried see something of ourselves in these characters. I certainly did, and Ken’s condemnation of modern pubs being too loud and crowded could have been taken verbatim from my own whinging.
Ken and Mary are portrayed as lucky to have the the married couple as their rock. The centre for them to return to and gain some semblance of family lacking in their own lives. However, the portrayal is far too depressing. Yes, Ken’s fumbling advances to Mary are brushed aside but I doubt Ken gives this much thought. And when Mary’s vulnerability leads her to be, only briefly, rude to the son’s new girlfriend we are led to believe that she is ostracised; later being told that “these are my family” the implication being ”you are not”.
To my mind the acting was occasionally contrived; Ken’s talking with his mouthful was completely over done but then Leigh’s style means that this is always a risk for which he can be forgiven. There were few flashes of Leigh’s gentle wit which I have become used to and the film seemed to drag dreadfully once we hit the funeral. My friend and I sat looking at our watches.
That said Lesley Manville portrayal of Mary grew in strength and the final lingering view of Mary at the dinner table, eager to join in and be happy yet fearful of rejection was very moving. As usual with Leigh the films this one stayed with me and I am still going over it in my mind. Surely that has to be the mark of a good film.