There is an interesting set of sounds, a clapping and phishing, at the beginning of 45 Years against a blank screen, as the credits roll in. The sounds repeat later, when much water has flown under the bridge of Kate (Rampling) and Geoff’s (Courtneay) marriage, and as you think back, it’s clear how cleverly Haigh has framed this portrait of a relationship done in by a harmless, gnawing secret.
Take the title itself, carrying the weight of passage of time. Adapted from a short story, In Another Country, it finds Kate and Geoff less than a week from their 45th wedding annivesary. Kate does the trips to the town, as well as the planning and the selection of the venue, reconciled to the fact that Geoff isn’t too big on such things. And then a letter arrives, saying that the body of Geoff’s former girlfriend Katya, who died while they were on a trek through Swiss mountains back in the 60s, has been found almost fully preserved in ice.
He remarks, “She would look like she did in 1962. And I look like this.”
However, it’s not just the physical presence of Katya’s body that comes to haunt Kate. It’s how a sudden curtain lifts around Geoff with the secret of the extent of his love for Katya out in the open. He starts smoking again, can be seen thinking into the distance, starts avoiding their old pals, and discovers the idealism of a young man disgusted at the fact that a friend they nicknamed ‘Lenin’ now only talks golf.
Rampling, nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, is fabulous in both her vulnerability and the need to put up a strong front. Courtenay, ignored by the Academy but with other awards under his belt for the role, plays such a cruel hand while appearing entirely harmless that you feel the plunge as much as Rampling shows.
This is a film though about few words, and most of the action happens in the way the gaze of the two lead roles changes, how she tentatively returns his embrace when they are dancing, the ferocity with which she strikes the piano keys, and moments in which they don’t lock eyes but when they let their eyes drop.
Directed by Andrew Haigh
Starring Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James