In the week running up to their 45th wedding anniversary Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) receive a letter that contains some news that puts strain on their relationship.
Now that the summer blockbuster season has run its course and the weather turns to a cooler Autumn, 45 Years is a welcome sight. After movies with all their bluster and attempted spectacle 45 Years, with what appears to be so little, blows them all away with a film of honesty, humanity and affecting drama. It is refreshing to see an intelligent and well-made drama, whose central characters are those in the twilight of their life and the film manages to be one of the most moving and dramatic of the year.
The film’s plot might seem slight but within it is actually a cleverly formed central dramatic idea that pushes the film along. Out of the blue Geoff receives a letter telling him that the body of a former love, Katya, who fell down a fissure while travelling with Geoff in Switzerland, has been found preserved in ice in a glacier after fifty years. This small piece of news may seem like the closure to a tragedy from long ago but it brings up feelings in Geoff that had laid dormant and it slowly starts to take over Geoff and Kate’s relationship, a relationship which on the surface looks so secure and firm. Though Tom’s previous relationship was never a secret, the depth to it had never been fully discussed between Geoff and Kate, and the news brings all of this flowing out. Geoff is suddenly overcome by the rising up of old feelings and also struggles to come to terms with the news; because of the quick freezing process Katya is perfectly preserved as the young woman she was while Geoff has grown in to an old man, prompting Geoff to look back at where all that time has gone. Kate struggles on trying to keep a brave face and carry on arranging the celebration for their 45 years of love while she starts to come to terms with the fact that her whole relationship may be built on the fallout of a tragic former relationship of Geoff’s. The disheartening tug of regret grows in each of their minds as they are forced to look back on their lives and their relationship, childless and without warm reminders like pictures around the house. Geoff and Kate have each other but in the end has that been enough?
45 Years is subtle, without any flashy direction or anything that calls attention to itself. For the most part it is a two hander between Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, the film hanging heavily on their experienced and hugely capable shoulders; Rampling and Courtenay both rightly won best Actor and Actress at the Berlin Film Festival. Their understated but powerful performances beautifully convey the quiet but powerful rift that slowly opens up and drives through their long standing relationship which is the centre of the film. The film and the performances make the story and characters seem so real and believable; you genuinely feel like there is the weight of 45 years of marriage between them before we join them. The camera places itself around them like we are part of their home, just watching their conversations play out. It is never intrusive and it doesn’t insist on itself. Instead we just watch, unable to help, as Kate and Geoff’s relationship starts to crack in front of us.
45 Years is a moving and intimate drama, subtly directed and well acted by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. It is most importantly very human and real. One of 2015’s best.