Director: Andrew Haigh
Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay
After 45 years of marriage there are still things that can put a wedge of distrust between loved ones, as so clearly depicted in the Andrew Haigh film of the same name. We want to believe that by that point we’ll know everything about our partner, irrelevant things like where they attended grade school or the names of relatives they only met once, the most trivial and boring of stories.
Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling embody the high class, retired and childless couple, Kate and Geoff, and most other characters are mostly there to listen to them explain their thoughts. An ominous letter tells them that that body of an old girlfriend of Geoff had just been found. The discovery seems random, having happened tragically after a good fifty years, though it’d be hard to tell considering the corpse hadn’t aged nor decomposed, frozen in the Alps of Switzerland. The film doesn’t show us this body as the idea and memory of her was all it needed to hinder the long marriage. This is the premise of a story of suspicion and doubt, all the while the couple plan their anniversary celebration.
The characters in question are ones that are familiar enough with each other to give brutal honesty but still in love enough to show compassion in doing so. While Charlotte Rampling very realistically portrays an aging woman who fears she’s wasted her life on someone, Tom Courtenay responds as a man who knows her well enough to see through her act but goes along with it so to ease her mind. This doesn’t stop him however from engaging in nostalgic acts like looking through old pictures and telling long stories about his young romance with the woman. In some of these scenes the more powerful performance is Rampling’s as she listens to him, not knowing whether he prefers those memories to the present he has with her, or if he just misses that time of his life.
The said actors are what make the universe created by 45 Years come alive, and give it all the melancholic emotion it desires, but this alone does not fully flesh out its story. Its ending is unapologetically abrupt and felt too easy for something so serious. It hardly discredits the rest of the film, but it will likely make audiences leave the theater chagrined, or even sit in their chairs, unsure if it’s actually over. Although the story is well-told, the final moments before the credits will make people wonder if the story needed to be told.
Kate and Geoff’s lives take place in that of a small town in Norfolk England, where they live with what appears to be very few neighbors, isolating them to each other and themselves. Director Andrew Haigh shows no problem in making all the unspoken tensions and ideas very subtle, while making the more concise ideas come out forwardly at the right times. Adapted from a short story by David Constantine, who more often writes poetry, 45 Years creates a vivid portrait of a veteran marriage still tested by new challenges.