A slow-moving British adult drama about a couple in the twilight of their lives, 45 Years features outstanding performances from Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.
Married for 45 years, without children, Kate Mercer (Rampling) and husband Geoff (Courtenay) are poised to celebrate their wedding anniversary with a party in a week’s time. They couldn’t do so on the occasion of their fortieth because ill health for Geoff resulted in heart bypass surgery, but five years later the time seems to be right, even though he still appears fragile. Then he receives a letter that shakes both of them. The correspondence, from Switzerland, informs him that a body has been found, frozen and fully preserved.
It is that of Katya (his girlfriend before meeting and wedding Kate), who died falling into a fissure in a glacier when the couple was on a walking holiday. The year was 1962. He has been contacted as he was listed as next-of-kin, even though they weren’t married. Suddenly Geoff and Kate’s well-ordered and respectful lives are thrown into turmoil. He begins smoking again and seeks out old photos of Katya in the attic. It seems that he hasn’t been totally forthcoming about Katya and as a result Kate and Geoff’s seemingly solid marriage appears extremely vulnerable.
45 Years presents a new take on relationships, old age, forgiveness and jealousy. It is from writer/director Andrew Haigh (Weekend), whose screenplay is adapted from David Constantine’s short story In Another Country.
In the sphere of romantic love, longevity tends to be praised as an achievement in itself. Cheery news items circulate periodically about unions that have endured over many decades and attract gushing comments about how sweet, how adorable, how inspiring it is for love to last so long. But does emotional intimacy inevitably increase as the years wear on, or might it suddenly rupture or slowly erode? Haigh’s film captures, with haunting acuity just how susceptible this couple’s marriage becomes when past pain surfaces and envy is reawakened.
“A fissure, I suppose you’d call it – like a narrow crack in the rock,” says Geoff of the fault that claimed Katya’s life, little suspecting that he’s identifying exactly what’s happening to his marriage. Kate’s persona is extremely rational and caring and yet in spite of that she can’t help the way she feels and reacts to the news from Switzerland and to Geoff. In both their cases there is undoubtedly a British cultural sensitivity at play, burying feelings for the sake of the status quo, but of course with the revelation everything starts to unravel. Conversely, openness carries with it inherent risks and you question whether this could ever be the way for this English middle class couple. There is an undoubted sadness at play here too … sadness at growing old, sadness about past choices.
The film moves along by virtue of a series of incidents that occur in the five days after the arrival of the letter.
Rampling’s carefully measured performance is exemplary. Courtenay, too, is a revelation. He may not say much but his body language and personality traits create an indelible persona. Rated M, 45 Years is intelligent, contemplative cinema that will appeal only to a select audience and scores a 7½ to 8 out of 10.
Director: Andrew Haigh
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Dolly Wells
Release Date: 18 February 2016
Rating: M – Coarse language and sex scene
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television