Another Cannes, another Mike Leigh classic

By Emma Jones
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Image caption,
Jim Broadbent (left) stars in Leigh's latest effort alongside Ruth Sheen (centre)

Mike Leigh, the maker of Secrets and Lies and Vera Drake, is one of the most awarded British film directors. Another Year, his latest film, is among the favourites to win the coveted Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

"It's a continuation, it's more of the same from Mike Leigh," announces the director.

"It's called Another Year, so we follow a group of people across the changing seasons to show the cyclical nature of life.

Despite Leigh calling the film "more of the same", Another Year has had rave reviews from critics in Cannes.

"The main characters, Tom and Gerri - played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, are a married couple with a full and happy relationship," the director explains.

"But you can't look at that kind of fulfilment without a context of other people's suffering to offset it, and that's where we bring in Mary."

Mary, played by Lesley Manville, is a divorcee in her 50s and is Tom and Gerri's best friend.

The actress says: "She's a woman trying to have a positive outlook on life but as the film goes on, we see she's very lonely, bruised and is struggling to keep her head above water. And she drinks too much."


Image caption,
Manville (left) is a regular Leigh collaborator

As is usual with Leigh, it's not overtly dramatic, but his observational style of directing, and the script's pathos and humour, have led it to be described as a "perfectly rounded film".

"It's about the passing of time," Leigh says. "And about getting older. That motivated me, as I'm now 67 and time speeds up and you think, 'How long is there?'

"The film is also about who's still around, who you care for, who cares for you, why some people are blessed with children and others aren't. So in summary, to me - life is long and short."

The director uses some of his favourite actors in the film - including Broadbent, Manville - with whom he's worked nine times - and Imelda Staunton, who has a cameo at the start of the film.

2004's Vera Drake - which, incidentally, Cannes rejected - brought an Oscar-nomination for Staunton and there is talk that Another Year will do the same for Manville.

She is tipped to take the best actress prize at Cannes on Sunday.

Leigh says: "She is one of the great actresses and I want her to be much celebrated for her contribution - it would be great if that started here at Cannes."

British directors

Leigh himself remains one of the frontrunners for the main Palme d'Or prize, which he also won for Secrets and Lies in 1996.

Intriguingly, Ken Loach - another British winner at Cannes, is also contending this year with Route Irish.

Image caption,
Route Irish traces the lives of two ex-soldiers working in Iraq

It is rare for Britain's two biggest auteurs to have films at the same festival - and, at some point, will there be another generation of British film-makers to take their place?

"I care for the future of British cinema and I am actually very confident about it, as new technology means it's possible to put everything out online and many talented directors are already communicating directly with their audience," says Leigh.

"What makes me furious is when production companies and studios put pressure on film-makers to put commercial consideration above all else. That often makes the film a flop.

"Directors need to be encouraged to go out and make the kind of films that both Ken and I really enjoy doing."

The Palme d'Or will be announced on Sunday.

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