Mike Leigh's new film is about a happy marriage. Tom (Jim Broadbent) is happily married to Gerri (Ruth Sheen); the two have a nice home, a nice son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), and nothing but nice things to say to each other. Tom is a geologist and Gerri is a counselor. During work time, Tom examines the soils of the city and Gerri examines the souls of the city. Their free time is spent either in an urban garden (planting this and that) or entertaining friends. One of these friends, Mary (Lesley Manville), a woman who works as a secretary at Gerri's office, turns out to be the center of the story.
Mary is the opposite of Gerri. She is unmarried, childless, and clinging to all that remains of her youth. Gerri is content with her age and place in the world. She does not desire the eyes and attention of young men; her husband, who is completely devoted to her, is all she needs at this late stage of life. Mary wants a young man, but can only attract older men; Mary wants the freedoms and status of an automobile, but she ends up owning a lemon. Gerri's life is almost perfect; Mary's is terribly imperfect. Gerri owes her perfection to common sense; Mary's imperfections owe everything to the romantic nonsense swirling in her head: She is not young, glamorous, sexy, or independent. She is nothing but needy.
Mary is also not middle-class. She is in a class beneath that of Gerri and her husband, both of whom are professionals and live comfortably in the suburbs. True, Tom recently climbed out of the class in which Mary is stuck (and doomed to die), the working class, but this past is swiftly fading and will be entirely unseen by (and also in) the future children of his son, who is a lawyer and dating a professional woman. In short, this movie is really about a departure. Tom and Gerri are permanently leaving Mary and her station for a sealed and solid middle-class existence.
Indeed, one of the main parts of this movie, which is organized into four seasons, is a funeral that occurs in the working-class world (with its bad beer, bad taste in music, bad English, bad homes, bad and ignorant children). The funeral is for the wife of Tom's brother, a taciturn and uncultured man. The funeral is attended by Tom, Gerri, Joe, the uncle, and three other people from the dead woman's place of work, a bakery. The funeral is for the class that the middle-class couple has left for good. You doubt the fairness or accuracy of this reading? Please see what happens to Mary in the last season of this picture. See exactly where Mike Leigh leaves her. The end of Another Year is a rude awakening for Mary.