Although surrounded by misery, Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) have managed to remain happy through all the years of their marriage. The same cannot be said for Gerri’s friend and co-worker, Mary (Leslie Manville). Mary is a two-time loser in love, and finds her best years slipping away. Another year and another year, and then the barrenness almost seems insurmountable.
The couple handles her with kid gloves and with loads of patience. But when she’s snippy to the new girlfriend of their son (whom Mary has flirted with in the past), they feel they’ve done all they can. Mary is not the only adult of concern. There’s Tom’s brother. When his wife dies and his punk son comes to the funeral (late), the son goes off on his father. It’s always someone else’s fault when things don’t go the way you think they should for people who are off keel. Tom’s brother comes to spend time with them after the funeral, and while they are out one day, Mary shows up at the door. When Tom and Gerri come home, they are obviously not pleased to see her – especially since their son and his girlfriend are coming to dinner. Mary is obviously more of a mess than usual and she breaks down and cries. Kind hearted Gerri comforts her, but tells her she needs to take responsibility for her own actions.
Broadbent and Sheen are good as the comfortable couple. But it’s Leslie Manville’s Mary who has the really emotional scenes. It’s harder to play people on the edge than it is people who seem content and at ease with their place in life. Although not an unremitting downer like some of Mike Leigh’s films, Another Year nevertheless fades out into a bleakness that lingers, as the face of Mary fades into a devastating screen blackness. Structured as 4 chapters (the seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter), the last of course is Winter. Many films use this same structure, and it’s an effective tool. I think especially of the beautiful Korean film Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring. Tom and Gerri have a plot in a community garden, and they have a scene there in every season. They tend their garden in all seasons. Apparently, Mary also has a plot but never goes there. It wastes away. Happiness needs looking after. Unhappiness lurks for those who don’t pay attention.