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Double Movie Review: 'Another Year' and 'Made in Dagenham'

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“Another Year”
Directed by: Mike Leigh
Starring: Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen
Rated: PG-13

“Made in Dagenham”
Directed by: Nigel Cole
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Andrea Riseborough, Geraldine James, Rosamund Pike, Miranda Richardson
Rated: R

“Another Year”
Fans of writer/director Mike Leigh can recognize his work within a few frames of a film. That's not to say his movies are copies of one another, but they all have an unmistakable feel. His character development and the performances he extracts from his cast are more like documentary pieces than theatrical works.

I saw his “Life is Sweet” in 1990 and have watched it once or twice a year since then; it remains high on the list of my favorite films. Leigh has been rewarded with critical acclaim – he's been nominated for six Oscars and nearly 100 other prestigious film awards, and became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1993.

But he's never been too commercially successful. His highest grossing film was “Vera Drake,” which took in $13 million worldwide in 2004.

Art doesn't always convert to commerce. Van Gogh made very little money from his paintings that are now among the highest priced in the art world. And Mike Leigh still has both ears.

Leigh also has an unusual method of directing. Many of his movies have begun as mere outlines, with Leigh hiring a cast and then going through months of improvisational acting sessions. From these he develops a shooting script. It's a different way to make a film, but Leigh is a master at the technique.

“Another Year” is another story about a British family. In this case, it's Tom and Gerri - played by Leigh regulars Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen.

Tom and Gerri are in their autumn years, but they are obviously very much in love and happy with their life together. There is not one moment of sappiness in their relationship, though. Broadbent and Sheen play against each other like a couple who have grown up together. They are kind and caring when dealing with each other and enjoy cooking and puttering around in their allotment garden space, shared with other folks on their block.

Their friends and family aren't as happy as Tom and Gerri, though, and that's where the dramatic tension enters.

There's Mary (Lesley Manville), Gerri's co-worker who is insecure, nervous and drinks a bit much. Ken is an old friend of Tom's and he, too, is unhappy and tips a few too many glasses of wine. So Mary and Ken are made for each other in an opposite way than Tom and Gerri are. But Tom and Gerri are always supportive, pleasant and most of all, they rarely make judgments, even concerning Ronnie, Tom's brother, who is somewhat of a walking zombie.

Joe is Tom and Gerri's son and is an affable sort, as you'd expect coming from that family. Mary, who is old enough to be Joe's mom, has designs on him, and when he brings his girlfriend home for a visit, things get a bit weird.

The final shot of Mary downing a drink is emotionally powerful and will stick with you for a long while. I expected to hear The Beatles' “Eleanor Rigby” over the ending credits.

“Another Year,” as good as it is (and it's great), is probably not the best of Leigh's films for the uninitiated. Start with “Life is Sweet,” then go to “Secrets and Lies” and “Happy-Go-Lucky.” You'll catch on to his style and will probably love “Another Year.” I know I did.

“Made in Dagenham”
Speaking of Mike Leigh, Nigel Cole's “Made in Dagenham” features actress Sally Hawkins, who charmed her way through one of Leigh's previous films. Her character in “Made in Dagenham,” Rita O’Grady, could be the mom of Poppy, whom she played in “Happy-Go-Lucky.”

The film is based on a true story, when 187 people went on strike for equal pay for equal work at the Ford plant in Dagenham, England in 1968. Rita is an amalgam of several women that were involved in the action which eventually involved the male workers at the plant.

In the film, Rita's husband also is employed by Ford, but he's against the strike.

Rita and the other women find an unlikely ally in the wife of the plant's executive head of industrial relations. Also on board is union representative Albert, expertly played by Bob Hoskins.

The film will undoubtedly draw comparisons to “Norma Rae” and “Silkwood,” but as serious as the subject matter is - and the fact that the strike led to the passage of an equal pay law in Great Britain - “Made in Dagenham has a lightness and charm, mostly because of the presence of Hawkins, a textbook example of an actress who can light up the screen.

“Made in Dagenham” is currently playing at The Moxie and “Another Year” is opening there soon.[[In-content Ad]]

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