BRITISH cinema has arguably made a much-needed return to form this year thanks to Testament of Youth, The Duke of Burgundy and Queen and Country. Now 45 Years, a relationship drama from Andrew Haigh, the director of Weekend, continues the belief that this really could become a memorable year for domestic works.
Set across six consecutive days, the film follows Norfolk-based Kate and Geoff (veterans Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay), a couple about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. It transpires that the motive for celebrating the less conventional sapphire event is down to their ruby anniversary being affected by Geoff’s heart bypass. When the film begins, Geoff discovers that the frozen body of a previous girlfriend named Katya has been found preserved in the Swiss Alps, fifty years after she died on a holiday there.
As the film progresses, the relationship between husband and wife is explored as preparations made for the sapphire anniversary juxtapose with socialising with others, including Kate’s best friend Lena (Geraldine James). But as the anniversary day approaches, Geoff’s preoccupation with the discovery crafts an uncomforting tension between the two at a time when happiness should be expressed totally.
As a relationship drama, this is an impressive work, thanks mainly to the performances from its two lead actors. Rampling and Courtenay totally disappear into their roles to the point where when we first see them on screen together, it is as though we are watching a real life couple thanks to their chemistry and carefully placed character arc. Rampling plays her role with a careful restraint that never allows the film to venture into cliché while Courtenay’s utterly convincing depiction of a man still haunted by the past at the more inconvenient at times makes for compelling viewing.
On top of its acting, the writing also allows for some fine-written sequences where basic conversations tell more than just what it is being said, allowing for character studies to be deciphered through short words.
One example depicts a brief moment where during a conversation between Kate and Lena, the latter mentions how she was referred to by Geoff as a fascist for simply expressing that Thatcher didn’t do much wrong. Another depicts Geoff telling Kate how earlier in the day, he was continuously asked if he was alright after stating he was by a known woman simply described as ‘‘racist’’ and ‘‘dreadful’’. The writing is enjoyable to listen to and even actions alongside make for a film that is handled superbly at times by its director, who clearly knows how to present real human feelings on screen, whether implied or delivered.
It is not the kind of film where screaming matches take place and part of its success lies with its quiet yet tense placement where unpredictability as to where the film is heading make for intelligent viewing. Kate’s cold glare at Geoff as she realises a significant moment from his past is just one example of how uncomforting the film can be at times.
In a sequence which details Haigh’s talent for direction, Geoff having been picked up by Kate from a social event drunkenly describes his afternoon, unaware of Kate’s discovery screen moments before. The next shot goes from a one-sided conversation to a very wide shot of Geoff vomiting next to the car, though what is supposedly suggested turns out not to be the case. By making the viewer assume something unsettling has occurred, only for the reality to kick in, it makes for welcome directing as it invites the viewer to speculate, only to be bought down to earth so the unpredictability and tension-splattered storytelling can continue.
A scene where Kate wakes at night to find Geoff in the attic searching for items relating to Katya and presses him to show a photograph is another example of how skilfully the writing, acting and directing display unbearable tension handled correctly.
By the end, 45 Years works as an engaging relationship drama that allows its convictions, expressions and methods to craft an interesting look at the present apparently being controlled by events from the past.