Mike Leigh’s gentle yet powerful new film about family, friendship and ageing is a compassionate and considered work, balancing humour alongside its more melancholic notes. Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are a good-hearted couple sliding towards old age. He’s a geologist, she’s a counsellor, and they have a warm relationship with their grown-up son Joe, a community lawyer. As they potter around their allotment or cook curries for their friends, the only remarkable thing about them is how contented they are. But two of their friends don’t share their good fortune: Mary (Lesley Manville), a work colleague of Gerri’s who bemoans her disastrous love life and drinks too much to try and keep up a cheerful front, and Tom’s old mate Ken (Peter Wight), equally lonely and unhappy, and trying desperately to stay afloat. The film unfolds over four seasons, an accumulation of encounters and mostly small events that highlight Leigh’s skill in taking the fabric of everyday life and turning it into something resonant and meaningful. He’s helped by his ensemble cast, many of them Leigh veterans, and all of whom seem to be inhabiting their roles rather than playing them. And cinematographer Dick Pope captures the changing seasons perfectly, from a sun-dappled garden to a forlorn winter funeral. Getting old is clearly no picnic – but how refreshing to see it treated with honesty and understanding.
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