Mike Leigh's new film bristles with anxiety and loneliness. It is deeply sad even when evoking the contentment of its main characters, a married couple in late middle age played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen. The cutely named Tom and Gerri, a geologist and a social worker, surround themselves with friends and relatives whose lives are empty and getting emptier. They do their best to help and console these wrecks as Leigh traces their decline through the four seasons of one year. In the film's single victory (besides the victory of survival), their son (Oliver Maltman), a pleasant but forlorn legal-aid worker, finds a nice girl (Karina Fernandez) who is spazzy in the Leigh fashion but also well adjusted and caring.
Lesley Manville, as Mary, a co-worker of Gerri's, and Peter Wight, as Ken, an old friend of Tom's, give performances so sodden, they make you never want to touch alcohol again. Indeed, Another Year's virtuoso acting moves your focus away from the social reality the film lets us glimpse — heavy traffic, ugly new buildings, small offices. Imelda Staunton shows up early, then disappears, tersely pinpointing in a couple of scenes something terrible. She embodies years of unhappiness that contrast with Tom and Gerri's warm memories of the hippie era in which they met and thrived before settling into jobs and family life.
The film is heavy, even when the characters are gardening, but great, one of Leigh's best and one of the best of the year. It has the added bonus of showcasing great British actors away from the Harry Potter films that keep them in cash and heavy make-up. David Bradley, as Tom's widowed brother (Argus Filch to Potter fans), an aged rockabilly we meet at his wife's barebones funeral, is morose and scary, out-of-it, a bad paterfamilias whose tense son Carl (Martin Savage) shows up late but arrives chopping gray scenes of winter mourning into hunks of spite.
Another Year is as far removed from heartwarming as you can get. It does not provide closure of any sort. It does not shy away from profound loneliness. Its pity is clear-eyed and painful. Still, bleak and raw as it is, it is inviting, as Gerri and Tom are. At the same time, along with 10 Rillington Place, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, and Four Weddings and a Funeral, it joins a list of English films that do not make me want to visit England. Maybe because it's too much like here.