PrintE-mail Written by J. R. Southall

The ghosts of the past return to haunt a couple on the eve of their 45th wedding anniversary celebrations after a skeleton falls almost literally out of a closet, in Andrew Haigh’s quiet and thoughtful film based upon the short story In Another Country by David Constantine.

On the Monday before the party to celebrate 45 years of marriage, Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) receives a letter telling him that half a century after she fell into a glacier, the body of his previous girlfriend has finally been recovered. What follows is a study of the psychological effect wrought upon Geoff’s wife Kate (Charlotte Rampling), for whom the past has always been something best left unexplored, but who cannot now ignore the consequences of thinking about how differently things might have turned out had Katya not perished in Switzerland all those years ago. 

Distinguished by its entirely diegetic music score and long, languorous takes (most of the scenes herein play out with just a single camera set-up), Haigh’s film is as technically unassuming and as lacking in artifice as they come, and that allows him to concentrate almost totally on his two lead actors and their inner lives. Courtenay plays Geoff as someone drifting through life, occasionally impassioned (mostly on the subject of politics) but otherwise happy to let his wife be the dominant partner in their relationship. It is Rampling as Kate who is the film’s emotional centre, and whose journey we follow from receiving the letter and a reminder that before she and Geoff got together, there was someone else who might have filled her shoes. Rampling’s Kate is initially a flat presence, someone who has come to terms with her world and the things she has filled it with, but through the first forty-five minutes of the film her curiosity about Katya and Geoff’s journey threatens to unravel a contented relationship. Then, at the halfway point, there is an emotional revelation that changes things apparently irrevocably.

45 Years is a film for anyone who has ever questioned the choices they made earlier in life, and even more so for anyone who has ever questioned the choices their partner made. Its one capitulation to artificial storytelling is to have Geoff’s choice thrust upon him, rather than allowing him the agency to have made it himself, and it is this that causes Kate’s dilemma and robs him of the ability to help solve it. The second half of the film piles deception upon deception as Geoff’s white lies, designed to save Kate from any unnecessary misery, ultimately end up causing it. It’s an incredibly intelligent film, touching upon universal subjects without resorting to the hysterics of petty jealousy.

And Haigh provides no easy conclusion, leaving the characters in an ambiguous embrace before forcing the viewers to imagine for themselves what comes next – and perhaps also to imagine how they might feel in Kate’s circumstance, and what action they might take to try and resolve it – whether that be to save the marriage or to surrender to a force outside either’s control and walk away. 

Special Featuress: commentary, cast and crew Q & A, trailer


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