Another Year (2010) is Mike Leigh’s critically acclaimed drama of an English couple and their circle of acquaintances. This is an extremely well acted film with a theme that’s both simple and complicated at the same time -the nature of happiness and the possible reasons why some people achieve it and others don’t.
The film doesn’t really attempt to answer this question, but is content at portraying people in varying degrees of happiness or unhappiness. Actually, this isn’t quite true -it shows the extreme contrast between happy and unhappy people, without much middle ground. The fortunate couple who are at the center of the story are Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), who are content in their careers, home and with each other. It seems that most of their friends and family, however, are much less fortunate.
Another Year starts off with a stark picture of unhappiness that is almost a parody, as Gerri, a therapist, talks to a woman with a dead stare and monotone voice who seems practically comatose in her apathy. We meet other characters who are in almost the same state -Gerri’s co-worker and friend Mary (Lesley Manville), who is lonely, inclined to drinking too much and often on the brink of tears. Tom also has a friend who’s adrift, Ken (Peter Wight), and if we suspect that Ken and Mary might make a good match, this is quickly dispensed with as Mary snubs the overweight and awkward Ken (she has a crush on Tom and Gerri’s son, a futile pursuit that makes her seem quite pathetic).
As if this weren’t enough, we are also introduced to Tom’s brother, whose wife has just died, and who appears frozen in a state of grief that, it is suggested, is not going to lessen with time. Another Year is a bit heavy-handed with its theme, but the very strong performances mostly prevent it from seeming over-the-top in its portrayal of depression, loneliness and grief. This is a case where the director, and clearly not the actors, are responsible for any tendency to overdo it. For example, there’s a drawn out scene in a key place in the film where the camera lingers on Mary’s forlorn face for an extended period, as if we needed convincing that she is unhappy and that her situation is probably hopeless.
Another Year is a distinctly English type of film, and conforms to the stereotype of this being a land of pessimists. The fact that the couple who are at the center things are in fact happy only serves as a contrast to how miserable everyone else is -there’s almost a suggestion that they are lucky for some unknowable reason. Another Year is well done and thought provoking, but hardly uplifting in its worldview.