Mike Leigh’s films do not have scripts. He works with his actors to build characters and then puts those characters in situations and watches what happens. When working with extremely talented actors such as the stars of Another Year, this can lead to brutally honest and often hilarious results. But it also explains the unpolished and sometimes even incomplete feeling you walk out of a Mike Leigh film with.
Though not necessarily the story’s protagonist, the star of the show is Lesley Manville and the tragically neurotic character she inhabits, Mary. Her performance should surely garner an Oscar nom (although she was snubbed by the Globes) – however I am a bit surprised that there seems to be no consideration that her role might be better classified as a supporting actress. There is no way that Manville has more screen time than True Grit‘s Hailee Steinfeld – yet Steinfeld is considered supporting. Color me perplexed.
Regardless of classification, Manville’s performance is stunning – even if the movie does drift a bit into melodrama at times. I’m not talking about melodrama in the telenovela sense, but at times the movie reminded me of a play set on location. Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Oliver Maltman, and the brilliantly funny Peter Wight all deserve praise for their performances as well in a film that should be on the top of every best ensemble short list. This is a character study in the truest sense of the term. Fortunately, most all of the characters turn out interesting enough to spend the time studying.