In British filmmaker Mike Leigh’s “Another Year,” having a partner to share the vicissitudes of life is what makes the difference between loneliness and happiness. Divided into four sections designated by the seasons of the year, the story revolves around three primary characters. There’s Tom (Jim Broadbent), a geological engineer, his wife Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a medical counselor/therapist, and her colleague Mary (Leslie Manville), an administrative assistant. Married for many years, Gerri and Tom have a comfortable, nurturing relationship, diligently raising vegetables together in their allotment in the local communal garden and sharing parental concern about their 30 year-old son Joe (Oliver Maltman), a lawyer who’s aware that most of his friends are settling into marriage. In contrast, brittle Mary is in her late 40s, divorced and desperately searching for emotional nourishment – often at the harmonious home of open-heartedly gracious Gerri and Tom, where she meets a succession of ineligible or inappropriate men.
Perhaps best known for the developing the depth and richness of his characters, Mike Leigh concentrates primarily on Leslie Manville’s wistful, if exaggerated role. She had smaller roles in his “Vera Drake,” “Topsy-Turvy,” and “Secrets and Lies,” but now Manville takes center stage, wallowing in miserable Mary’s wine-soaked delusions.
Leigh’s naturalistic style lends itself perfectly to the low-key, slice-of-life drama, which, while bleak at times, nevertheless rings true. “You know me,” Mary babbles, “I’m very much of a glass-half-full kind of girl.”
According to Leigh, the idea for Mary grew out of his last film, “Happy-Go-Lucky,” which was about youthful optimism, as epitomized by exuberant actress Sally Hawkins.
He then became curious about what happens to women after their late 20s and early 30s, when disappointment begins to settle in. As is his habit, Leigh begins with an idea but not a script. He gathers his cast and they discuss their characters and collaborate on the concept before he begins to write the screenplay.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Another Year” is a bittersweet 7, compassionately exploring what’s most kindly called ‘late middle age.’