45 Years

17 February 2016 | 4:10 pm | David O’Connell

"If you have the patience you will be rewarded."

As their 45th wedding anniversary approaches, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) prepare to celebrate a long and happy relationship. Yet news that the body of Geoff's former girlfriend (lost decades ago during a mountaineering expedition and frozen in ice) has been recovered, throws events into chaos. Soon Kate is forced to re-evaluate her entire life with Geoff, as his behaviour becomes increasingly strange.

This is certainly a slow burn. The pay off is subtle and emotional, but as devastating as any grand third act reveal, with stakes that are utterly realistic. An extended adaptation of the short story, In Another Country, 45 Years looks at the pressures on a relationship and how a single revelation can erode the solid framework that has built over time. It is haunting, with a subtle sense of creeping menace threaded throughout, as it plays off the stasis of Kate's marriage with the change of the outside world. In a way little happens throughout the film. The damage is done within the opening couple of scenes, it is merely a question of discovering how deep the wound actually is.

To this end Haigh allows his actors plenty of room to breathe. Often providing coverage in two-shot, he is as interested in the reaction to what is being said, as much as what is actually being stated. He creates the environment, and trusts them to be the characters in it. The result is a believable world where the audience feels they are granted a voyeuristic view of a relationship in crisis.

Both Rampling and Courtenay thrive here, revelling in the emotional complexity. Both were awarded the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, and Rampling has since been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.  It is an honest portrayal of an aging couple in a relationship, and it is that earnest way in which they react to each other that makes the fractures that appear all the more devastating.

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Courtenay's performance is a balance of fire and decrepitude. We get bursts of the young man that was, but also see that age has stripped some of that lustre. However, centred on Rampling, 45 Years is really her piece. Kate is organised, caring and very much still in love, but we also see the doubt and the regret. All this builds up and to the final shot and the reaction on Rampling's face. It is something that will haunt viewers for long after the film has finished.

A work placed firmly on the shoulders of it's two primaries, 45 Years delivers stunning performances filled with emotional range. Its slow, methodical build to a devastating conclusion is not for all viewers, but if you have the patience you will be rewarded. 

Originally published in X-Press Magazine