Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are Kate and Geoff, a couple who have weathered 45 years of marriage together. However, in the days leading up to their anniversary party, the arrival of a letter threatens their intimacy and trust.
Directed by Andrew Haigh - who attracted much praise for his 2011 debut, Weekend - and based on a David Constantine story, 45 Years is an absorbing take on old age, its frustrations and small pleasures. Like many other films, it is primarily about how the past can catch up with us unawares and how events can haunt us with greater potency when shot from an increasingly further point in time. The retreating vision becomes curiously more vivid as the ‘what if’ element comes into play.
It’s the road not taken, in other words; the story of what might have been, but was not to be. As a young man, in the shadow of the Second World War, Geoff once walked through the Swiss Alps with a girl called Katya on the way to Italy. They found shelter in houses and were fed by kindly strangers. Katya wore a small wooden ring to pretend they were married and lend respectability. Then tragedy struck on the ice and Katya lost her life in seconds.
Geoff has never discussed this traumatic incident in any detail, although Kate is vaguely aware of it. It happened before they met, so it could be usefully consigned to the past. That is until a letter arrives, bearing the news that Katya’s body has been found, apparently preserved in the Alpine temperatures.
As a result of this sensational discovery, the couple’s relationship begins to wobble and feel the buffetings of the past, as preparations get under way for their anniversary party. None of their friends know anything about the letter, Katya or the incident. The peculiar fascination of this often powerful film is that we, the audience, are all too aware of it and what it is doing over the course of a mere week.
The changes effected by the letter are apparent not just in the subtle, intelligent dialogue but also in the remarkable facial expressions of both lead actors. Notable in this regard are the striking eyes of Rampling, as she relentlessly watches Geoff retreat into himself as he reflects on his time with Katya all those years before.
45 Years is bound to be one of the most memorable, affecting films of the year and there is already some talk of Oscar glory of some kind or other. It is not flawless, and there are occasional clunky notes in the screenplay, but it is has some deeply memorable scenes that linger in the memory, some of which involve no dialogue at all. Definitely a must-see.