Around the midway point of Andrew Haigh’s stunning new film 45 Years, Charlotte Rampling’s Kate makes a stunning revelation. It’s the week before her 45th anniversary and she has been planning the celebration for months. A week earlier her husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay) receives a letter in the mail informing him that his first love Katja’s body has been discovered. As he attempts to play it off Kate can’t help but begin to wonder – was she a fall back? Does their 45-years of history mean less to Geoff than a woman he claims to barely remember?
This doubt is the backbone of 45 Years. Kate and Geoff move a bit slower now, living in a beautiful country home in England. Their days consist of books, walks with the dog and short trips into town. Haigh fills his frames with the lush greenery surrounding their home and keeps his distance within it. Kate and Geoff are quieter but their history fills each frame.
After Geoff receives the letter things begin to change. He is immediately more distant. He opines before bed about his trips from Italy to Switzerland and the memories come flooding back. Geoff hasn’t repressed them at all, in fact he seems to conjure them up with ease. At first, Kate lets him speak, thinking after so much time the shock of this discovery will pass. But as they move closer to their anniversary she can’t help but wonder what the man she’s dedicated her life to is really thinking.
Haigh plays with marital tension in an interesting way. His camera keeps its distance early in the film and slowly draws closer as Kate uncovers more details. It’s a mystery but also a ghost story. Katja haunts every frame as Geoff reveals his true feelings. It becomes clear that Haigh is not only interested in the dynamics of such a lengthy marriage but also the age-old question – how well can you truly know a person?
And his actors, oh my word his actors. Rampling received an Oscar nomination for her performance and if it wasn’t for her tone deaf response to the #oscarssowhite controversy she would absolutely have a shot at winning. Her eyes tell a story of a woman’s life unraveling. It’s the opposite of a Daniel Day-Lewis performance, in fact she rarely (if ever) raises her voice. What Rampling lacks in showiness she makes up for with seething intensity. It’s a masterclass in restraint. Tom Courtenay as Geoff is every bit Rampling’s equal here. His world has been shattered and his attempts to squelch his true feelings while indulging them behind closed doors is devastating.
While Haigh hits a few false notes (specifically his on-the-nose music choices) it’s hard not to be rocked by 45 Years. It’s a haunting portrayal of a seemingly perfect marriage splitting apart at a time no one would ever expect.