Another Year On general release from 5th November
Mike Leigh is often spoken of in the same breath as Ken Loach—as one of our great British realists. But Leigh is nothing of the sort. Since his Play for Today work in the 1970s, his films have been theatrical: their acting styles heightened, their genre closer to melodrama. This explains the scenes which are “too much” in Leigh—the formal or emotional histrionics, their character meltdowns. The auteur sometimes makes me feel like a voyeur.
This is why his new film, a glorious portrait of human ageing, is all the more of a surprise. It’s about a man and wife and the people in their lives, who sit around their dinner table, sharing the passing of the seasons. Actors Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent cook for—and provide a harbour for—their complex, needy friends and relatives. They are the keystone of the world they inhabit. Sometimes they just sit in their allotment and have a cuppa.
The film isn’t in a completely different register from the most theatrical Leighs; his regular actress Lesley Manville gives a brilliant performance which could have been in the best of his previous work. But Leigh has long professed his admiration of the Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. Like Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953), Another Year is about the sadness of time passing and the decency of people. The resignation in the movie is heartbreaking. Leigh has made a near-universal work of cinematic art, an unforgettable movie about coupledom, loneliness and the English dinner table.