45 Years (2015) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for language and brief sexuality
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay
Director: Andrew Haigh
Screenplay: Andrew Haigh (based on a short story by David Constantine)
Review published January 3, 2016
I've often wondered, when reflecting on the James Cameron blockbuster, Titanic, how a woman could live to the age of 100, have been married and have children with another man, and still consider her few days as a young woman in a love that met a tragic fate as the first and only true love in her life. If she were to go on to live in the afterlife, would she choose the man she built a life and family with to spend eternity with, or would she choose the one she wanted to but fate extinguished the possibility before it was truly allowed to begin? It's that notion that is explored in 45 Years, an astute and finely nuanced look at the nature of relationships that exist for those whose soul-mates may have been taken too soon.
On the verge of celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary, wife Kate (Rampling, I Anna) is putting together all of the necessities for their big party at an esteemed hall in the English countryside, while husband Geoff (Courtenay, The Golden Compass) seems to be preoccupied. What's been on his mind has stemmed from a letter he's received that the body of the woman he was involved with before he met Kate, a woman named Katya, has been found frozen in a glacier in Switzerland, preserved nearly as it had been since she fell into a fissure as they were exploring through the area in 1962. As they had told people there they were married in order to keep their rooming arrangements from being questioned, Geoff has been considered the next of kin, and has therefore been the one notified. This is all news to Kate, who is curious not only as to why, after spending most of her life with someone, he never shared this with her, but also as to why the news of her found body is causing Geoff to exhibit new behavior, taking up smoking again, spending time in the attic looking at old items, reading books he's had since before she's met him, and listening to music he hasn't listened to since he was young. After forty-five years of marriage, Kate wonders is she has been number two in Geoff's heart all of those years.
Director and screenwriter Andrew Haigh (Weekend, Greek Pete), adapting the gist of a short story from David Constantine, has crafted a truly remarkable drama about lost loves and secrets, and how the revelation of past feelings for someone else can still rattle the foundations of a marriage that has lasted all the way into an age when one would think it shouldn't affect them anymore. The problem here is not just of jealous feelings toward a woman long since dead, but also in the fact that the husband she thought she knew through and through has seemingly been harboring a secret life of thoughts and feelings he never bothered to share.
What works best about 45 Years is that we watch all of these things play out without the need for Haigh to explain just what's going on, relying on his phenomenal actors to show through their facial expressions and behavior exactly how their feeling, so fine tuned that we feel like we know them, even though we only see a few days in a marriage that has lasted nearly half a century. All would be for naught without the magnificent performance from Charlotte Rampling. Tom Courtenay is especially good in a rich portrayal of a man who is having trouble containing his feelings, which is especially unnerving to his longtime companion since he's not been carried away with romantic notions since their early years of marriage, havinng distanced himself from outward displays of thoughts and emotions for some time.
The observational film is never ostentatious in how it plays out, with most of the story told through a series of conversations between Kate and Geoff that start off as if it's something that isn't anything that will affect the status quo, until Kate begins to notice that something has certainly shifted in the bedrock of their marriage in a very frightening way. Also interesting is the way that Haigh showcases both parties in a sympathetic light, even if some of their actions aren't always good for the preservation of the marriage. Geoff is so fixated that he scarcely notices that his obsessive behavior is tearing his wife of 45 years apart, while Kate can't help but get to the root of finding out the depth of just what Geoff is going through internally, drawing out his coming to terms with a tragedy that took her husband's first love as a sign that Geoff might not consider Kate as his one true love, despite the fact that he has always been hers, through sickness and health. They say that time heals all wounds, but 45 Years not only shows this not to be the case, but those unclosed wounds also have the power to bring forth some fresh new ones.
©2016 Vince Leo