Directed by Andrew Haigh Starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay
Film review by Hannah Sayer
Based on the short story ‘In Another Country’ by David Constantine, 45 Years is a reflective and emotionally moving character study adapted and directed by Andrew Haigh, which explores the power of the past and how it can consume and haunt the present.
The film stars Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, in potentially career best performances, as Kate and Geoff Mercer who are planning a party in the week leading up to their forty-fifth wedding anniversary. Everything is going smoothly for the celebrations, until Geoff receives a letter informing him that a body of a young woman has been found perfectly preserved in the Swiss Alps. It is Katya, Geoff’s former girlfriend who died in the 1960s when she fell to her death while hiking with Geoff. It is with the introduction of Katya’s ghostlike presence that the relationship between the Mercer’s quickly begins to unravel.
The idyllic yet imposing Norfolk landscape allows for Lol Crawley’s cinematography to truly excel. His understated style of capturing the eerily picturesque setting allows for the narrative to seem very realistic, often painfully so. The uncomfortable and intrusive nature of the sex scene puts the viewer in the position of the voyeur, witnessing this act that is often portrayed in a ‘sugar coated’ way on film. This is an example of one of Haigh’s daring elements in the film; older couples are rarely ever shown in film to be committing such an intimate yet normal act. This brings to the forefront the theme of the exploration of human nature, as Haigh chooses to examine how love and intimacy can be affected by an event even after two people have been together for a long period of time. The subtle long takes and slow zooms allows the audience to believe they are witnessing a realistic portrayal of a marriage; where we are unsure as to whether they will make it to the anniversary party that is looming, or whether recent events will cause their relationship to reach an upsetting climax.
The importance of the passing of time within the film allows for a claustrophobic intensity to be created, as each day passes towards the big day. The simple closing shot at the end of most of the days, of Kate turning over in bed in the darkness to look at Geoff, allows for the viewer to believe this is a realistic study of a marriage, with their repeated routine establishing its strength after forty five years. However, these scenes highlight the exceptional performance from Charlotte Rampling, who even in the silence and the darkness captures Kate’s vulnerability and how her trust is slipping away from her marriage, as she begins to understand the repercussions of the letter.
45 Years is impressive and thoughtful in its handling of its themes and Andrew Haigh captures the harrowing reality of the psychological complexities of marriage. There is no denying that its exceptional performances are what enable this complex piece to achieve its five star status.