Fabulous trailer; wonderful music; beautiful poster and amazing advance notices: in short, I was willing to like Mike Leigh’s Another Year: wanting to like it: waiting to like it. So why did I leave feeling I’d been sold a pig in a poke?
It certainly wasn’t the acting. As well as possessing unerring instinct in choosing his cast, Mike Leigh coaxes superlative performances from them. Another Year brings home how flat many films are; radiating, as it does, a warmth and depth that make you forget the screen. However, the excellence of the acting and the obvious care put into the film made their squandering on such a schematic tale even harder to take.
Basically my reaction was one of huge disappointment mixed with a little anger. Actually make that quite a lot of anger. “Life’s not always kind, is it?” asks Gerri. Well, I think most of us are aware of that, but I’m not sure middle-class marriage and an allotment are the answer. Or that marital status is an effective talisman either way.
I just wish there had been some balance – one friend in an unhappy marriage, say; or one who was happily single. And that the film had offered some depth and subtlety in its portrayal of Mary. Although Leigh has stated, ‘I think the film is sympathetic… I don’t think it shows Mary in a mean spirit.’ (See Brian Brooks in IndieWire) I’d question that claim in light of her scenes with Ken and Joe.
And, as Alistair Harkness points out in the Scotsman: that the film seems to suggest ‘the only choices facing a good-looking single woman edging into her mid-fifties seem to be humiliation, unappetising companionship or alcohol-fueled loneliness says a lot about how cruelly the film treats her.’
Even as a non-smoking, shamefully lightweight drinker, I left the cinema wanting a large whiskey and a cigarette (fags and alcohol being the lazy shorthand for sad sacks in the film) in solidarity with life’s losers. At least as Leigh seems to view them – intentionally or not – in Another Year.