Less is so much more in 45 Years. The film is a quiet, understated, and eventually devastating look at how the past can creep up and affect a seemingly rock solid marriage. It’s all substance with little flash, painting a realistic portrait of a couple being tested by current discoveries jump-started by decades-old memories.
Just days before their forty-fifth wedding anniversary party (their fortieth was bypassed due to illness), Geoff (Courtenay) and Kate (Rampling) receive a letter written in German. Translating it, Geoff discovers that the body of his first love, a woman named Katya, has been discovered, encased in ice in the Swiss Alps. Some fifty years earlier, Geoff and Katya had gone hiking and she died during a tragic accident. The revelation begins to strain his marriage with Kate, with each passing day leading up to the celebration introducing a new question that jeopardizes the very foundation of a marriage that seemed steady for so many years.
Writer/director Andrew Haigh, adapting from a short story by David Constantine, keeps the narrative completely grounded in reality. This is a movie of long looks and quietly desperate developments. As the evidence mounts that Geoff has never completely moved on from Katya, the focus shifts to Kate and her feelings of never measuring up. As good as Haigh’s script is, it’s the casting of Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay that puts the film over the top. Rampling is nothing short of outstanding, completely sinking her teeth into this emotionally complex role. Her face, aged yet beaming youth, says so much in film’s final five minutes that 45 Years practically transitions from drama to suspense. Courtenay – an established veteran in his own right – masterfully portrays a torn, overwhelmed man trying to make sense of his feelings. His longing for someone he has silently missed for so many years is palpable. He’s not a villain; just someone trying to piece it all together as the cracks in the infrastructure of his prolonged marriage begin to expand. The final moments of 45 Years are difficult and potent, leaving the viewer breathless. Led by two first-rate performances, 45 Years is an intimate, introspective work that ranks among 2015’s best.
Studio: Sundance Selects
Length: 95 Minutes
Rating: R for language and brief sexuality.
Theatrical Release: December 23, 2015 (Limited)
Directed by: Andrew Haigh
Written by: Andrew Haigh. Based upon the short story by David Constantine.
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells, David Sibley