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Leigh’s brand of improvised cinema

'Year' director brings vision to drama

A Mike Leigh film is created via long improvisational rehearsals during which story and dialogue are created; as such, they’re sui generis. Having just delivered the effervescent, optimistic and youthful heroine of “Happy-Go-Lucky” (played by Sally Hawkins), Leigh decided it was time for a reverse maneuver. “Another Year” is also about Mary (Lesley Manville), a lonely middle-aged woman whose friendship with the very happily married Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen) means much more to her than it does to them.

Concept:“I thought it would be a good thing to do a film coming from where we are,” he says, “we who are in our middle-to-late 60s, who were born in the 1940s and early 50s; I was born in 1943. The film is about many things, but among them is time passing and growing older and looking back. And looking forwards.”

Challenges:“How to dramatize Tom and Gerri’s environmental, green, earth-nurturing thing. It’s difficult to dramatize an allotment” – a.k.a., the rented garden where the couple grows their vegetables. “That was one problem. At the same time I was trying to sort out the Mary story, because if the story were over a sort of time span she wouldn’t pay more than one visit, because she’s a fairly incidental person in their lives.”

Cinematographic solution: “(Cinematographer Dick Pope) had come up with four different looks. And when I looked at them, I suddenly thought, ‘I know — this is four seasons,’ and it liberated the entire concept of the film: Tom and Gerry could develop their allotment over a year, and it liberated the Mary story, because it occurred over a longer time span. It liberated the whole film, because I could approach each act, if you like, as a new part of the whole and come up with different looks and angles.”

Improv sessions: “You could relate them to other things but it becomes an academic exercise. I don’t really ever feel I’m part of a school.”

Audience expectations vs. director’s vision: “My assumption is that anybody can enjoy the films. The only assumption I make about my audience is that they’re at least as intelligent as I am, if not more so.”

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