After a string of gay-orientated projects (Greek Pete, Weekend, Looking), director and writer, Andrew Haigh, completely changes direction with his latest film: 45 Years. Based on a short story, authored by David Constantine, 45 Years is a humbling look into the inner workings of a deep-rooted marriage and the complexities of love.
A week before celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary, Newfolk couple, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercier (Tom Courtenay) receive startling news in the form of a letter. Listed as her next of kin, Swiss authorities have located the body of Geoff’s ex-girlfriend, fifty years after having lost her in an Alpine crevasse. With this news, Geoff begins a spiral of disconnection as he begins to reminisce about his lost love, which reveals secrets that rock the very heart of his marriage and history with Kate. Yet, as Kate becomes more inquisitive and Geoff more detached, their relationship is put to the ultimate test as tension rises in their attempt to plan their upcoming anniversary party.
It’s a remarkable tale that seems ripe with possibilities for a more thrilling ride, what with discovered bodies and mysteries of the past, but Haigh purposely resists and in its place allows both actors to take the lead. The focus is left solely on the two, dismissing the chance for extravagant drama to instead relish in the mundane. There’s a naturalistic feel carried through the dialogue and staging, solidified by the sense of a true history between Kate and Geoff, and while the camera tends to stick to a distance in an almost observational mode, it’s hard not to feel like the third member of this complicated marriage.
Already nominated for an Academy Award, Rampling (Melancholia) is electric as she navigates through Kate’s murky circumstances in what is a rather understated performance. Every sigh and glance conveys such depth that it’s impossible not to be drawn into her longing, jealousy and heartbreak, even as her character seems to lose sight of herself. In what is a flawless match by Haigh, is Courtenay (Quartet) as the recovering Geoff, whose soft nature plays superbly against Rampling’s hard demeanor. His frantic reaction is just as much aloof as it is tender, and Courtenay never falters in delivering.
With an ending that is truly heartbreaking, 45 Years is a needed reminder that cracks can form in even the most well-built and log-standing foundations.