It is spring in London and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a medical counselor, is asking a depressed woman (Imelda Staunton) about her insomnia. She gets to the heart of the problem with the query, "On a scale of 1 to 20, how happy would you say you are?" The patient answers without batting an eyelash: "One." There are many people who would agree with her. They are unable to handle the stress and the pace of everyday life and are completely unable to weather the storms. They are lonely souls whose disappointments and failures in love suck them deeper and deeper into darkness.
These vulnerable and wounded souls drain the energy of those around them who are able to cope with the messes and the miseries of life. Gerri lives with Tom (Jim Broadbent), an engineer nearing retirement. They spend a lot of their spare time in a garden where they grow nutritious food. They regularly entertain Mary (Lesley Manville), a receptionist in Gerri's office. A compulsive talker, Mary wears clothes that expose her yearning to be seen as younger. These exaggerated qualities are a result of her overwhelming loneliness and the feeling that she's missed the miracles of motherhood. Mary considers Gerri a close friend and is careful not to alienate her. But she has a severe drinking problem, which results in her unloosening the anger and jealousy she tries to keep from public view at the most inappropriate moments.
In summer, Tom and Gerri host Ken (Peter Wight), an old friend of Tom who works in a government office. A slogan on his T-shirt — "Less Thinking, More Drinking" — sums up his major problem. He doesn't like himself very much and is depressed about his inability to meet a suitable woman to marry. This negative assessment of his sad condition ends in tears. Trying to cheer him up, Tom goes golfing with him. At a barbeque, Mary arrives late and is all aflutter about her newly purchased secondhand car which she hopes will add some excitement to her dreary life. When she sees Joe (Oliver Maltman), Tom and Gerri's 30-year-old son, a lawyer working with the poor, she flirts and winds up asking him to get together for a drink. But when Ken tries to cozy up to her, she vehemently pushes him away. He is too much like her and that is just one more thing she can't handle.
In autumn, Joe arrives for a get-together with his parents and introduces them to Katie (Karina Fernandez), an occupational therapist he met three weeks ago. She is a charming young woman, at ease with others. This spontaneous celebration of Joe's good fortune is shattered when Mary responds rudely to this outsider. The mood of merriment vanishes and Tom and Gerri are baffled and then shocked by their lonely friend's behavior.
In winter, the wife of Tom's older brother Ronnie (David Bradley) dies. Tom and Gerri attend the funeral and invite grieving and helpless Ronnie to stay with them for a few days. Ronnie is sitting quietly in his brother's house, alone while Gerri and Tom are at their garden, when Mary drops in unannounced. Their close encounter is a dance of social awkwardness punctuated by his silence and inability to chat and her nonstop chatter.
When Tom and Gerri return they are surprised to see Mary, and reluctantly they allow her to stay for dinner with Joe and Katie. At the table, Mary sits in silence and absolute loneliness listening to the others talk about trips. It is a perfect moment capturing the way a person can be totally isolated in the midst of people. Mike Leigh has done it again: delivered a richly human drama that is emotionally literate and unforgettable!
Special features on the DVD include a commentary with director Mike Leigh and actress Lesley Manville; the making of Another Year; and the Mike Leigh method.