This is an unassuming film, a quiet slice of life that follows real people over the course of a year and becomes a touchstone for exploring the essential aspects of our humanity. The story revolves around a small cast of characters, in four chapters, spring, summer, fall, and winter, the names of the four seasons appearing as titles as the story progresses.
We meet Tom and Gerri (played so well by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), a happily married couple whose open-hearted hospitality is both simple and welcoming, transforming their simple home into a safe place for lonely people. Mary (Leslie Manville) and Ken (Peter Wight), definitely not a couple, are two of those lonely people, along with Ronnie (David Bradley), Tom’s fierce older brother who becomes bereft late in the film when his wife dies.
Another Year is not a film of heroism in the terms that define a superhero film, but is heroic in the far more profound sense of people who care for marginalized people with the simple gifts of welcome, listening, hospitality, lovingly prepared meals, and unhurried conversation.
The film received some well-deserved attention around Oscar time by being nominated for an award for best screenplay. It did not win but writer/director Mike Leigh did a brilliant job in producing a film that is rich as a story, with believable characters, a plausible plot, and dialogue that carries us not simply through a year but into the hearts of people yearning for a place to call home. Leigh has made his career with small films rather than blockbusters, but has done so with sensitivity to the human condition. He is perhaps best known for Secrets and Lies (1996) and Vera Drake (2004).
One thing to look for is the director’s use of symbols in the visual background of the film. Mike Leigh weaves repeated images throughout that are easy to miss yet which bring an added texture to our experience of the story. A few worth watching for, and discussing in terms of significance to the plot include: doors and entryways, Tom and Gerri’s garden, meals, and the jobs or vocations of the various characters.
Much of the film occurs in close up, the camera close to a character’s face so we can watch their eyes, their expressions as they talk. Mary, played brilliantly by Leslie Manville, is especially powerful here, her face like the surface of a pond trying to hide a roiling cauldron of pain, loss, and misguided identity lurking just underneath. This film gave me characters I could love, feel uneasy about, identify with or be appalled by,” Roger Ebert said in his review. “I see a lot of movies where the characters have no personalities, only attributes. I like James Bond, but I ask you: In what way is he human? Every single character in Another Year is human, and some of them all too human. I saw it and was enriched.”
Another Year is populated by very human characters in a very ordinary setting wrestling with the brokenness common to us all. Yearning for healing, love, and meaningful relationships what they are really looking for is place called home. The loveliness of Gerri and Tom’s hospitality and welcome is never sentimentalized or idealized, but instead is shown to be simple and all the more beautiful as a result. Another Year is a film to watch, discuss, and then emulate.