I caught up with Mike Leigh’s latest offering almost out of a sense of duty – aware of his jewel-in-the-crown status amongst British filmmaking and that a 2003 stage revival of Abigail’s Party was the extent of my experience of his work to date.
Another Year’s home-grown colours are nailed firmly to its mast from the outset – affiliations with Film Four, the National Lottery and the UK Film Council were all given prominence in the opening credits before Jim Broadbent strode into an early shot of Battersea power station, picked up some muck and proclaimed “Yep, London clay alright!”
He is almost-retired geologist Tom, happily married to Ruth Sheen’s almost-retired counsellor Gerri. Together they happily tend their allotment and host barbeques for those less fortunate than themselves in life and love. It’s expertly scripted and acted, with Lesley Manville giving quite a performance as the blustering neurotic mess Mary.
What interested me was the increasing sense by the end of the film (and another year) that Tom and Gerri, for all their niceties, hadn’t actually done much to help. Indeed, what appeared to be benevolence seems rather to have had the effect of facilitating others’ decline. Perhaps that glint in Broadbent’s eye which had looked like pity was in fact smugness.
My only small problem was with the film’s ‘turn’: a moment of embarrassment and shame for Mary which finally exhausts the couple’s patience, brilliantly shot with unremitting facial close-ups to heighten the anguish – but nevertheless a plot development in which I struggled to believe.
Still – this was fine, rich, nuanced adult drama and the two hours running time flew by. Time to investigate the Leigh back-catalogue.