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  • Post last modified:June 9, 2021

Another Year: Four Seasons Later

When I arrived to the press screening for this film, there was a critic talking about how difficult it is to get the film’s director, Mike Leigh, to say something substantial in interviews, which apparently was the case when Leigh appeared in Cannes last May. But isn’t that what one more or less expects from this particular filmmaker? His modus operandi is well-known, rehearsing extensively with his cast and then writing many of the improvisations into his script rather than starting with a neatly wrapped story. Perhaps he feels that this open-ended approach results in movies that shouldn’t be over-analyzed by himself. As for Another Year, it is one of his finest achievements.

Married for many years
Tom and Gerri Hepple (Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen) have been married for many years now. He’s an engineering geologist, she’s a counselor at a hospital. Much of their spare time together is spent at a lot where they grow vegetables and fruits. They have a thirty-year-old son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), who hasn’t found a girlfriend yet, but there’s no rush. Tom and Gerri often get visits from Mary (Lesley Manville) who also works at the hospital. She’s in her 40s, single, claims to be perfectly happy where she is in life… but her neurotic behavior and excessive drinking makes it hard to believe her.

We follow Tom and Gerri over a year, through the four seasons. Eventually, Joe finds a girl he likes, which complicates the relationship with Mary. Tom and Gerri has another friend over for a couple of days, Ken (Peter Wight), who is deeply unhappy and seemingly trying to eat and drink his way into an early grave. The Hepples also try to comfort Tom’s older brotherĀ  (David Bradley) after the sudden death of his wife.

Judging for ourselves
Those expecting a grand denouement or a story filled with twists and turns will have to look elsewhere. Leigh is counting on us in the audience to think and judge for ourselves. These are characters who remind us of real people that we know. We have no idea how their lives will turn out, what will happen next, and Leigh finds no reason to deviate from real life and wrap things up neatly. He’s just visiting, observing them with his camera; naturally, he’s choosing a point-of-view that makes us assume things about his characters, but that’s just part of life because we all do that.

So, what is it about all these everyday events that interest Leigh the most? There’s an obvious contrast between the genuinely comfortable and happy lives that the Hepples share and basically everyone else’s, which is particularly obvious in the final scene. Alcohol plays a major part; an impressive amount of wine and beer is consumed in the film, not just greedily by those who are miserable, but also at a reasonable level by Tom and Gerri. Love, and the lack of it, normally define a character’s mental state in this film; those who are unhappy are also unwilling to do something about it.

Drink moderately and if your life is going down the drain you must seek professional help is the apparent message… but as always with Leigh’s films, what’s more important is enjoying the journey, appreciating the details that subtly change over the course of a year, and getting to know these people.Ā 

Since improvisation is such an important part of Leigh’s process, the work of the cast is key. Their performances are funny and touching, especially Broadbent and Sheen as the lovable couple and Manville as the tragic Mary. Imelda Staunton is also perfect in a small role as a patient who refuses to acknowledge her depression.

Another Year 2010-Britain. 130 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced byĀ Georgina Lowe. Written and directed byĀ Mike Leigh. Cast: Jim Broadbent (Tom Hepple), Lesley Manville (Mary), Ruth Sheen (Gerri Hepple), Peter Wight, Oliver Maltman, David Bradley… Imelda Staunton.

Last word: ā€œWe all totally believe in what Mike does. For me as an actor, it’s very creative, fulfilling. You participate in every aspect of the job. You have a say in their house, where they live, what’s in their house. You have a say in their characters, their relationships. You have a say in the whole thing. You start from the foundation.ā€ (Sheen, Ā SBS)



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