I saw Another Year over a month ago and when I walked out of the screening room there was steam coming out of my ears. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the film or the performances, I just was so angry with the character of Mary played by Lesley Manville.
My initial reaction (and I feel sorry for the woman who left the theatre with me and got an earful) of anger has dissipated a lot, and the good news is that I still can’t get Mary and Lesley Manville’s performance out of my head.
The reason why I had such a visceral reaction to Mary is that I am sick of seeing women portrayed on screen as sad and pathetic characters. [SPOILERS] Not only was she sad and pathetic but she was a drunk and also incapable of driving without freaking out. And she also has a crush on the son of her best (and only) friends who is about 20 years younger than her.
But then it started to sink in and get under my skin, and since I am such a fan of Mike Leigh, I continued to think about the film and the character. And I also remembered that Leigh does British class issues better than most.
So here’s the thing about Mary. I guess she’s close to 50. She’s in a job as a secretary which she has been in for 20 years and sadly, she knows more of the same boring drudgery lies in front of her. She’s been treated like shit by men, cannot stand the one who foists himself upon her, and dreams that she is someone she is not.
The feminist revolution has passed by this woman untouched. You want to take her and shake her and say get your shit together, you’re giving all us women a bad name, but here’s her big problem — she’s an alcoholic. And that’s the thing about Mary. She gets through it all by being blasted most of the time. She gets blasted when she’s alone and blasted when she’s with other people. Drinking is how she has survived because her life really is shit.
She drinks a lot and it’s very hard (but fascinating at the same time) to watch a woman onscreen devolve in each scene as she makes her way through a wine bottle. That’s what’s so good about Manville’s performance. Layers of loneliness and drunkness are revealed as the film goes on. She is by far one of the saddest women I have seen onscreen in a long time (and I recently watched Breakfast with Tiffany’s) and it takes an actress of Lesley Manville’s caliber to be able to pull something like this off.
Another Year is in limited release now.