Mike Leigh’s films are so intensely British that it is sometimes difficult to understand why they appeal to us. Do we really want to see old people drinking tea? Do we really need to see how reserved the British are in the face of death? Isn’t a dodgy car too mundane a crisis for a mainstream movie? Well the answers, to all these questions, are yes and no.
Mike Leigh has never and will never have mainstream appeal. The idea that people between the ages of 13 and 25 (exempting myself, of course) can go to the cinema and enjoy two hours of polite middle class conversation where the conflict part of the three act story arc revolves around a couple being, basically, too polite to their mildly-alcoholic friend, is frankly ridiculous. So in that sense, no, Another Year is not appealing. But in the same way that countless Leigh films before it have exposed a tender and very real side to the British family and its ties of friendship, then yes, Another Year has an almost timeless appeal.
Lesley Manville has received her fair amount of plaudits and come February will be favourite, rather than dark horse, for the Supporting Actress gong. Credit must also go to the rest of the cast; Broadbent and Sheen for convincingly playing a happy couple on screen (Happy?!? HAPPY!?!) and Wight and Bradley for their respective lost souls. At the end of this film however it’s Leigh’s name on your lips, and the notion that he might be the filmmaker to define the past twenty years of British life.
As genuine an Oscar contender as any in Leigh’s career, it would be a real surprise to me if this doesn’t make the ten man shortlist, although we’ll have to see how it plays with our American friends. Brilliantly underplayed.