Whether in tragedy or comedy, there's a constant in Mike Leigh's body of work which rings true every time: this is a director who knows character. It's the purpose of his process – character, not plot – and it's resulted in some of the most memorable British films of the last thirty years. He brought Secrets & Lies to Cannes in 1996 and walked away with the Palme d'Or. Another Year is a wholly different film, but would comfortably have earned the same prize.
Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) - he a geologist, she a medical counselor - are a fortunate couple who've spent many a happy year together. But they must entertain the drunken nonsense of Gerri's work colleague Mary (Lesley Manville), who's slipping past middle age without a man and without a chance. Meanwhile, Tom and Gerri's 30-year-old son, Joe, complains that while he's living a perfectly happy life, his friends are marrying off and he's without a partner.
Through four seasons - spring, summer, autumn and winter - we follow their lives, as birth and death, happiness and sadness, and comfort and despair all rear their heads.
But while the couple is our window into this world, it's really Mary's story we're here to see. Lesley Manville's hilarious and touching performance tugs at the heartstrings as much as it tickles the ribs, and through her character we understand the real triumphs and tragedies of life; small victories and massive defeats. She's ready to make something of herself, she tells her best friend Gerri. Get a car, get a man, and get a life. But her journey is fraught with peril. It's all dodgy motors and disinterested men; a rented flat and no money to buy.