Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Another Leigh

Another Year 2009 UK
Directed by Mike Leigh
This film recently screened at UK cinemas

There are three things I can always rely on when I go to see a Mike Leigh movie...

1. It’s going to be really, incredibly depressing... but hey, I don’t mind that. And his last film, Happy-Go-Lucky kinda caught me out on that in that the main character was such a positive live-wire... an unusual departure for Leigh I feel. Although it has to be said that there were also moments of great pain and depression and hurting, damaged souls walking around on the lead character’s peripherals... so not too much of a departure then.

2. I will be in the hands of an assured, confident film-maker who has never once let me down and who will ensure that, even if the subject matter of the movie is not to my taste, the movie will never flag or be boring or be anything other than riveting.

3. It will always feature some of the greatest acting performances ever committed to celluloid.

And that last bit’s very important when it comes to Mike Leigh because, in my humble opinion, Mike Leigh is one of the all-time great actor’s directors.

Seriously, if you’ve never seen a Mike Leigh film and you regard yourself as someone who is interested in the art of performance then you should seriously check this guy's films out because the ensemble casts of these movies kick serious acting arse and any performance in any of his films would put most acting Oscar winners to shame.

And Another Year is certainly no exception to this rule, populated by a cast of characters that will make you laugh, cry or cringe in their on-screen personae.

I think a lot of the credibility of his characters stems from the fact that, according to a live post-movie interview I saw after the movie Womb with two of the actors who also happened to star in Another Year (Peter Wight and Lesley Manville), Leigh doesn’t start off with a script and goes into a movie, instead, with an intensive period of rehearsal with the actors to shape and grow the characters and the situations which shape the course of the movie. This is quite evident in his movies and it’s very much like that expression they use for big budget movies which have a lot of scenery and special effects... you know when people say they can see the “money” all up there on the screen? Well in Mike Leigh’s case it’s definitely a case of... you can see the prep time with the actors all up there on the screen!

This was a gripping but hard movie to watch because one of the main protagonists, a needy and downwardly spiralling character played by Lesley Manville, reminded me so much of someone I used to know. And there was another character in there who is even more tragic in some ways than this pitiful wreck of a woman and I thought... wow, that could almost be me in ten years time! So not an easy film for me to watch in those terms.

Don't get me wrong though, Another Year is a great, great movie and it does the usual Mike Leigh thing of not really having a start and end point... and just meandering along at its own pace without coming to any kind of conclusion... other than the conclusions you might yourself make about the lives of the characters on screen. I’d single out some actors or actresses but, as is always the case with Leigh’s movies... everyone in it was absolutely brilliant.

Now, I’ve always found this director's movies a bit hit and miss but not in the obvious way... as I’ve more or less said earlier... they’re pretty much all brilliant. I do however, have an acid test for movies which I like to apply to everything I see and it is this... would I want to watch it again. With Leigh’s films it is in this aspect that I find him hit and miss. Certainly with Naked - in my opinion his greatest film, if not one of the all-time greatest movies ever made - then I can watch it repeatedly and often. The same goes for movies of his like Life Is Sweet, Happy Go Lucky and High Hopes (starring the lovely Ruth Sheen who acts her socks off again in Another Year playing a somewhat similar kind of character, I think). Others of his movies, Vera Drake or perhaps All or Nothing, I could only ever watch once. I don’t need to see those again as I won’t get a buzz out of repeat watchings for those particular films.

Another Year sits in the second category for me... I couldn’t watch it again... too painful. But if it sits in that second category then it certainly sits there proudly. Because, repeat viewings or not, this movie joins this director's other works as being one of the finest films made for the cinema. If you’ve never seen one of Leigh’s movies before, you should definitely check it out. And if you have seen his movies before... c’mon, you already know the score with this film-maker. It’s a must-see. So track it down soonest.


  1. I just saw a trailer for this the other day so I'm pretty sure it'll come to my local indie theater soon enough. Of his movies I've only seen Happy-Go-Lucky (though I do plan on watching Vera Drake soon), which I loved, and this looks less funny but just as touching. After your high recommendation I'm looking forward to it!

  2. Hi there Alex (the one and only Film Forager),

    Vera Drake was one of my... watch it once only movies.

    I can't stress how much NAKED will bombard you with ideas (and we're talking about really dark and "number of the beast" stuff here) and blow your celluloid mind off it's hinges. It's at turns extremely funny but also goes to places which are beyond damaged. And David Thewlis absolutely shines... it's his GREAT performance.

    AND... there's a fantastic edition of it available on Criterion. If you just watch one other Mike Leigh movie in your life... make it NAKED!

    And thanks so much for your comments. As always they are very much appreciated.

  3. I do like lists. They help when the movies are so painful to watch. Good painful. And thanks for highlighting the meandering style of the director. I tend to get caught up in story and forget about characters, so this was good reminder.

  4. List! Whoah, that's a worrying accusation/observation. It wasn't intentional.

    I might have to have a think about this writing malarchy.

    Must do better. :(

  5. oh no! I didn't mean to push the j'accuse button--not meant at all. Lists aren't all bad, are they? I do them too. And this list was more paragraphs supporting your idea anyhow.

    In terms of web reading, studies have shown that breaking up text and delineating the path of the eye in a visual way (such as with bold font) is very helpful to readers. Have you ever read an essay on the web? Hard to do. So being "structural" with your posts follows that idea.