Director Mike Leigh’s greatest strength is the believability of his films. His work in Happy-Go-Lucky steered away from this somewhat, but that was for the best as Sally Hawkins gave a larger than life performance. The entire premise of that film is that everyone around her attempts to bring her back down to Earth and reality. It’s no surprise that Another Year should give us more unique characters, all of which have their own charms and troubles. Not quite in a similar vein as Happy-Go-Lucky, but certainly steering towards the troubles they had.
The benefit of Leigh’s work here is that all of his cast feel like they’re representing real people. Natural performances that blend with mundane dialogue, but this mundanity feels like a treat rather than a trouble. We get a slice of life in the lives of a group of characters, all of which have their own problems, aside from the seemingly idyllic lives of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen). We get new perspectives into the lives of everyone around them and it works in a tremendous, Earth-shattering style. When a film can make you worry about your own life, you know it’ll be an engaging piece that’ll shake you to your core more than you’d like.
But that’s Leigh’s specialty, and looking at his filmography it’s hard not to adapt to that thought rather quickly. Every character outside of the happy couple is stuck in reminiscence, thinking back to their finest moments and how their life in comparison isn’t worth the struggle and trouble. But these worries can translate to an audience well enough, tapping into their everyday worries of death, alcoholism and dying alone. It’s all there and Leigh doesn’t shy away from bringing out the sheer certainty of it all, it makes for a depressing yet exquisitely written time. The strong performances make this a real treat to observe, taking place over the course of a whole year, we see characters blossom and fail as everyone in the real world does.
Probably the best written character is that of Ken, who longs for purpose in a life that consists of work and the pub. Sounds a bit like my life, and that’s probably why I felt the impact of Peter Wight’s great performance. A shame then that he’s the least expanded upon character in the film, but this may just be down to the lack of screen time he ultimately receives. Played as nothing more than a permanent alcoholic and mentioned in passing after that, we see little of Ken when the film begins to ramp up the drama.
With superb direction and a tightly written script, the naturalistic style of Leigh’s work combines the feverish highs of life with the solemn lows in a perfect manner. His characters are believable and his direction adds a nice personal touch that would be lacking outside of anyone else’s involvement. A thoroughly enjoyable piece of drama, light enough to be enjoyed by everyone, but heavy enough to make me question my choices through life so far.