You are currently viewing 365 Days of Oscar: When Lesley Manville should have been nominated for “Another Year”

365 Days of Oscar: When Lesley Manville should have been nominated for “Another Year”

Mike Leigh deciphers the life of everyday folk with unrivalled intimacy, taking the time to construct an intricate life behind each individual who fills the frame of his movie. Having worked with his actors for many months before production, the characters of Leigh’s films are unlike most other cinematic roles, layered with as much history as an old wardrobe, stuffed with forgotten clothes, discarded jewellery and scribbled secrets.

Leigh’s meticulous excavation of character and the extraordinary performance of British actor Lesley Manville help make Mary Smith of 2010’s Another Year one of the filmmaker’s greatest ever characters.

Very much a supporting individual in the lives of protagonists Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Jerri (Ruth Sheen), as well as an initial side character of the film itself, Mary is a troublesome figure who is a nuisance for Tom and something of an obligated work friend for Jerri. A fragile, lonely alcoholic, Mary lives through the elderly couple who spend much of their time tending to their allotment whilst spending time with their son and his new girlfriend.

Nurturing her friend as if a stubborn artichoke on her allotment, Jerri cares for Mary and helps her, where she can, to find fulfilment in a life that is yet to meet her expectations. A middle-aged divorcee working as a receptionist at a health center whilst seeking a new relationship, Mary is a character who feels all too familiar to the viewer, with shades of her carefully crafted identity being visible in everyday neighbors, relatives and strangers.

A deeply depressed character looking for everyday stability, Mary latches onto Tom and Jerri to try and grasp safety and security from their own well-being. For such a broken individual, however, close proximity to idealistic personal connection only seems to further claw at her fragile self-worth. Manville helps to withdraw all this layered nuance with a raw performance that powers Leigh’s plodding narrative, which ebbs and flows with the pace of the changing seasons. Charging her performance with careful physical execution, even when she is not speaking, Manville’s every slight smile and hair flick speaks to a deeper truth about her character. She delivers a silent internal dialogue that is remarkably translated from her facial features alone.

Speaking with hesitant insecurity, Manville rambles in dialogue that skips from anecdote to anecdote as she desperately attempts to keep on top of the conversation. Of course, each offbeat reference and aside simply serves to reflect the self-conscious anxiety of losing face, of showing the true self beneath the socially constructed facade.

Effortlessly eliciting empathy, Manville’s performance of a tightly coiled character simmering with tension is utterly hypnotic, filling the shoes of a tragic character who feels hopelessly disconnected from the pace of life. A passenger in her own life who can’t seem to grasp hold of control, Manville’s embodiment as Mary is so special that it’s truly difficult to separate both performer and character.

This article is part of a special year-long series of anecdotes, reflections and thoughts about the Academy Awards.