Gasps of surprise and then a few people in the auditorium start clapping, then more, until the entire crowd is on its feet, saluting a sheepish Mike Leigh, who holds up his golden statuette, gazing out at the audience in bemusement. “Thank you, comrades,” he begins…
Ah, well, that didn’t happen, did it? Instead another British film, the tepid, thoroughly inoffensive “King’s Speech” nabbed the top prize, Hollywood, as usual, getting it dead wrong. “Another Year” is everything “King’s Speech” is not: authentic, uncompromising and relevant. It deals with the problems and preoccupations of ordinary people, not a bunch of vapid, in-bred royals who give new significance to the term “dysfunctional family”. I feel nothing but revulsion for the House of Windsor and in a fair universe Lizzie, Phil and jug-eared Charlie would be working in a bed and breakfast in Ipswich or Brighton, Buckingham Palace either razed or converted into housing for the under-privileged.
“Another Year” is an extraordinary film, a movie by adults, for adults. It portrays real people and does so with scrupulous honesty. More than anything else it is about loneliness and the terrible toll it takes on the human spirit. Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are a happily married couple, longtime companions who are settled, comfortable and still very much in love, even after decades of sharing home and hearth. Unfortunately, among their circle of acquaintances, they are an exception. Their friend Mary (Leslie Manville) is a case in point: she has endured a series of bad relationships and, like too many people I know, draws her sense of identity and self-worth from others. She desperately wants to feel special, to be loved and appreciated and that just isn’t in the cards. She’s not a bad person but, alas, she’s not an especially good one either. She attracts lying, miserable shits…what is it about her as a person that draws these awful men? That is not something she is prepared to deal with. Nor is she ready to make lifestyle changes that would either make her attractive to a good man or, even better, render men peripheral to her needs, rather than an absolutely essential part of her existence.
“Another Year” is divided into four parts, paralleling the seasons; over the course of the year, Tom and Gerri offer solace to their troubled friends and Tom’s brother (recently widowed), even as they privately express exasperation with their loved ones and wonder when they’ll summon the strength and courage to escape the deep ruts they’ve dug for themselves.
Broadbent and Sheen present a credible couple, one never doubts for a moment that they’ve spent decades together (a tribute to the enormous amount of rehearsal time Leigh devotes to his projects before a single frame is exposed). Characters in this movie are fully inhabited by the actors who play them and I came away from “Another Year” feeling as if I had spent two hours eavesdropping on private lives and intimate disclosures.
There’s no happy ending, no huge, dramatic scenes or epiphanies; Mr. Leigh is too good a director and too perceptive an observer of the human condition to allow treacle or sentiment to mar his creations. While “Another Year” might lack the firepower and intensity of Leigh’s masterpiece “Naked”, it is a compassionate, thoughtful examination of the problem of loneliness and the depths to which men and women will descend in order to escape their solitude. A drowning person will clutch the point of a sword, as the old saying goes. And even a lost cause is eminently preferable to waking up and facing the world alone.
Sad, sad, sad.
Click here to view the trailer for “Another Year”.