The Mercer farmhouse and local village are set in idyllic Norfolk, England; undisturbed, life is slow and routine.
Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) live a sedate, comfortable life, walking the dog to the post office, taking their time to read the morning paper while enjoying tea and toast, and taking afternoon naps. They chat quietly, tenderly and affectionately and, although they are slowing down, life seems to be pretty good.
Then one morning, Geoff receives a letter informing him that the body of a previous love, Katya, has been found in the Swiss Alps. It has been buried in ice for 50 years and it is only due to global warming that the snows have melted and revealed it.
An event from 50 years ago might be expected to have little impact on the couple’s coming celebration, but some individuals are curious about a partner’s past relationships, especially if there was a significant commitment. Rampling’s performance conveys how a person may feel that they have actually been second choice for many years while their partner has continued to imagine a life lived with another.
45 Years is a film that is very much about its stars, and Rampling and Courtenay are both outstanding.
Courtenay portrays Geoff as a slightly doddery ageing man who becomes rattled by events but tries not to show it. He has been a bit of a political activist in his day but no longer has the energy and drive to fight for causes.
The camera often concentrates on Rampling, who uses her considerable acting skills to reveal her inner questions, fears, doubts, regrets and confusion about the predicament she finds herself in as she reflects on her 45 years with Geoff.
Together, they believably create a couple that have spent most of their lives with each other.
Director Andrew Haigh keeps the pace relatively slow and contemplative, creating a gentle, loving ambience. There is always something of interest happening and the tension is maintained because we are unsure what is going to happen to these two.
The success of a relationship cannot be measured in longevity, but in quality. While a couple may appear to be happily married, 45 Years shows how no one – other than the couple themselves – can ever truly know what has transpired between them.
It is filmed beautifully, written sensitively and acted superbly, touchingly exploring how complex and difficult it is to be in a long-term relationship.
Everyone has secrets and we all keep select experiences from a partner. This film leaves us wondering if a partner is better off knowing or not knowing such things.
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