45 Years (2015)

45 Years (2015)
  • Time: 95 min
  • Genre: Drama | Romance
  • Director: Andrew Haigh
  • Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James


In the week leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary, a couple receive an unexpected letter which contains potentially life changing news.


  • Birdsong heralds the opening moments of the piercing marital drama, 45 Years. It seems of a piece with the picturesque Norfolk countryside presented to us by writer-director Andrew Haigh, but it also portends a disturbance. Indeed, barely five minutes have passed before Haigh sets off the first depth charge.

    “They found Katya…my Katya,” Geoff (Tom Courtenay) announces to his wife Kate (Charlotte Rampling). That “my” – quietly dropped by instinctively included – stealthily burrows itself into Kate’s bloodstream, unleashing a slow and steady poison. Years and years ago, before he and Kate ever met, Geoff was in love with Katya, a young German woman who fell into a crevasse and died as they were out walking in the Swiss Alps. Nearly half a century later, her body has been discovered, perfectly preserved in a glacier. “How strange it would be,” he thinks, “if she looked like she did in 1962, and I look like this.” He wonders if he should go see the body, but Kate doesn’t understand the point. One can sense that she is trying not to be too unsettled, that perhaps this may simply be a storm to weather. They are, after all, about to host a party to celebrate 45 years of married life.

    Yet something significant has shifted and Geoff, lost in the remembering of his former love, does not appear to realise the further damage he is inflicting by sharing that he and Katya were posing as a married couple – surely he must have mentioned it to Kate at one point? In any case, if he neglected to, “it’s hardly the sort of thing you tell your beautiful new girlfriend, is it?” She knows that she shouldn’t be upset at something that happened before she and Geoff existed, “but still.”

    But still… “Memories – they’re things, aren’t they?” Kate notes, and Katya, like the first Mrs. de Winter, becomes a powerful and threatening presence, reminding Kate of all that was and all that never happened. Even the twinning of their names suggests the alternate life Geoff might have had. A trove of photographs, hidden away in the attic, feature Katya, forever young. Kate and Geoff, meanwhile, barely have any photographs decorating their home. They never had children or grandchildren, perhaps it would have been nice to possess visual reminders of their dogs, their first home, the first time they saw each other on the dance floor. It was Kate that Geoff married, but it was Katya with whom he established a more substantial history.

    45 Years is a simple film but the caliber of its telling and especially of its two lead performers turn it into something profound and almost daring. Haigh keeps the tone rigorously understated to the point where 45 Years almost functions like a thriller – what new detail will be revealed about Katya, how much longer will Kate tolerate his talking about Katya before she reaches her breaking point… A scene in which Kate clicks through photo slides of Katya is positively cataclysmic – each click like a stab in the heart and the softly murmured “Oh!” as Kate uncovers one crucial detail that Geoff has withheld is devastating.

    Rampling and Courtenay are brilliant. Her performance will most likely be the more lauded, but her nuanced portrayal would not be nearly as impactful without the excellence of his playing. Geoff is deceptively the weaker of the two – his heart bypass got in the way of their 40th anniversary celebration, he’s dependent on her to drive him into town – and Haigh frequently obscures or omits him altogether in the frame. Yet the news of Katya rouses him and slowly diminishes Kate, and her emotional disintegration reaches its climax in that painful closing scene set to the old classic, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

    Rampling is nothing less than glorious, deeply eloquent in her restraint that every flicker is seismic. Despairing, envious, unsure – whatever the emotion, Rampling is majestic.

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  • (Rating: ☆☆☆ out of 4)

    This film is mildly recommended.

    In brief: A film that too slowly builds to a strong ending, thanks to two consummate performers.

    GRADE: B-

    Two of England’s finest actors, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtney, star as a married couple celebrating their many years of fidelity when a wayward letter interrupts their celebration and their lives in Andrew Haigh’s drama, 45 Years.

    News of a lost love surfaces during the planning of an anniversary party for Kate and Geoff Mercer. Apparently, the body of Geoff’s former lover, Katya, who perished during a hiking accident in 1962, is found. This news is a catalyst that has shaken this marriage to its core. The film tellingly shows the subtle changes in both spouses as it takes place over the week since the news was received.

    The problem with the film is that it seems like it is filmed in real time, with its all too generous leisurely pacing and takes its time deliberately to build this tension at the cost of some boring scenes. Also, more time is spend on Kate’s traumatic reaction than Geoff’s which throws off the balance of the film and their relationship. The screenplay, by the director, shifts the focus from Geoff reactions to Kate’s emotional vulnerability, so the moviegoer rarely experiences his angst and automatically sides with her.

    Haigh provides some nice directorial touches (a sudden turning off a song on the radio named Young Girl, continuous closeups during a slide show that contrast the older Kate and the dead Katya, a climactic dance that distills all of the hurt with a final gesture that resonates). The film succeeds in showing the ravages of age and monotony associated with many long-lasting marriages quite well. However, more judicious editing and additional scenes with Geoff could have helped to define that character more effectively. As it stands, he still remains an enigma whose behavior is never fully explained.

    Yet it is wonderful to see Mr. Courtney back on the big screen, even if his part is underwritten. His chemistry with Ms. Rampling is touching and authentic. But it is the actress who brings a fully restrained and introspective performance to this film which allows it to gather momentum to lead to a powerful conclusion.

    45 Years is a fine character study that is enhanced by strong realistic performances.

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