Following the indie success of Weekend and helping to produce/direct HBO’s Looking, Andrew Haigh shows he isn’t simply be a ‘gay director’ with the tender 45 Years. The film introduces us to Kate and Geoff Mercer (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay), who are soon to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.
Geoff gets unexpected news when he receives a letter informing him that the frozen body of his old girlfriend, who died in an accident decades before, has been discovered in the Swiss Alps. Initially Kate thinks this is surprising and upsetting news for her husband, but not something that will greatly affect either of them. However, as Geoff talks more about this woman he knew before he met Kate, she starts to feel that perhaps their marriage has been haunted by her, and Geoff’s feelings about an entirely different life that he might have led if fate hadn’t intervened.
As their 45th anniversary approaches, the strain begins to grow on this quiet, fairly staid relationship.
45 Years is certainly not a movie that’s interested in screaming, shouting and big, showy feelings. Instead it maintains a quiet tranquillity on the surface and invites the viewer to feel the rippling emotions under the surface. It also allows two of Britain’s finest actors ample space to show exactly what they can do. Rampling and Courtenay are magnificent, more that deserving the Silver Bears they picked up at the Berlin Film Festival last year.
As with Weekend, Haigh tends to treat the camera as an outside observer, rather than obviously trying to lead the audience in particular directors. That said, he certainly has an eye for strong images and scenes. There are moments when his script gets a little too obvious with its metaphor, but thanks to the fact Haigh’s style isn’t too ‘look at me, aren’t I clever’, you’re more likely to appreciate the effort than be annoyed that a movie that is often so beautifully subtle occasionally lands a metaphor with a thud.
Some will undoubtedly find the movie too quiet and lacking in incident for their taste – as mentioned, Geoff and Kate are not the type of people who are suddenly going to scream at one another about decades of problems that suddenly erupt in a blubbery mess. However, those who enjoy a quiet, impeccably acted character study will find much to admire.
45 Years is also certainly based around an interesting and rarely explored idea. While there are plenty of movies about couples who suddenly have to deal with issues both are aware of but have never addressed, 45 Years takes on the idea of what happens if, after a long marriage, one of the spouses has to deal with the fact the bedrock of their relationship is based on something they’d never considered before, and whether that means they need to reassess the majority of their life. With a plot like that it would have been easy to blame it all on the other person, but there’s no suggestion Geoff has been deliberately lying, just that there are things he hasn’t really talked about or properly dealt with himself, but which has left an indelible impression on his life.
Instead it allows both the characters and the viewers to consider their reactions, making for a beguiling and quietly powerful movie.
Overall Verdict: Quiet, contemplative and with brilliant performances from Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, 45 Years is a fascinating, beautiful character study of a long marriage quietly hit by something unexpected. It also shows Andrew Haigh isn’t a talent just when he’s dealing with gay topics.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac