The Simple Secrets Behind Great Films

17 February 2016 | 6:56 pm | David O’Connell

“I love those films that you watch and it isn't really effecting you, and then it stabs you in the guts towards the end."

The idea for 45 Years came when Andrew Haigh was struck by reading David Constantine’s short story, In Another Country.

“There was this central idea of what effect the past could have on a relationship. It feels like it is long dead, long gone, but can still rear up and threaten something that is seen as strong in the present. It seemed like a good way to explore relationships, and to understand ourselves and our identity through relationships.”

Although it takes a fair bit of effort to adapt a concise 12-page short story into a feature length film. Haigh struggled with this as both a scriptwriter and director, until he hit upon a change of perspective. “It takes time, and you wonder if it is going to work. I made a few changes, such as putting it into her perspective, and creating the anniversary party – and it made the difference. You work away, hoping it will work in film.”

The film is an examination of what happens when a seemingly stable relationship is rocked by news from the past. As their 45th Anniversary approaches, Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate (Charlotte Rampling) are forced to re-evaluate their past and future together. “We forget that we are constantly changing. The 'what if?' is the thing that keeps me awake at night. Our life is ruled by coincidences and choices that we make, and we don't realise the importance at the time. It can be very disconcerting. Every thing can disappear and can make your life seem very meaningless, when there is no great rhyme or reason to what has happened in your life. Partly for Kate, that is what happens.

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“I love those films that you watch and it isn't really effecting you, and then it stabs you in the guts towards the end. It's always building up with little subtle things.” This is something the film does with a degree of aplomb, finishing with on a reaction shot by Rampling that is devastating. In fact in many ways Haigh worked backwards in creating the script, deciding on this moment initially and working to build to it. “I've always thought of this film as everything building to the final moment.”

A slow burn, 45 Years is reliant on its performers. Haigh is a believer in staging the shot to allow the actors to shine in a scene, rather than constant cross-cutting to close up.  “Acting is always the most important thing in a movie. If you don't get that right, the movie doesn't work. You go to the cinema to see emotions. You want to trust the actor and let them do their thing.”

It has paid off, with both Courtenay and Rampling wining the Silver Bear at the Berlinale, and Rampling receiving an Oscar nomination. “Good actors know what they have to do to make it believable.” 

Originally published in X-Press Magazine