Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James
With a week to go till their 45th wedding anniversary celebrations, Geoff and Kate Mercer (Courtenay and Rampling) receive news regarding someone from Geoff’s past leading to revelations that threaten to potentially destroy the last 45 years.
When films are an intimate examination of a relationship between two individuals they often try to give us an introduction and some context from the off, usually through an overkill of clunky exposition. One of the many strengths of Andrew Haigh’s excellent film is that it throws us straight into the lives of the narrative’s two protagonists and we the viewer have to make the effort as the narrative slowly brings out revelations that are potentially life changing for Geoff and Kate. Andrew Haigh is very much in charge of his film and only tells the viewer what we need to know, and though 45 Years is at times hard work, this leads to an infinitely more rewarding and emotionally involving viewing experience by the time the film reaches its unforgettable conclusion.
The entirety of the narrative takes place in the one week up to Geoff and Kate’s party for their 45th wedding Anniversary and Haigh intentionally throws us straight into their lives for just these seven days. This means we have to often figure out for ourselves what has happened previously and the emotional effects they have for both characters, not only for these seven days that are the focus of the narrative, but the future as well.
The pace of the narrative is intentionally slow and the dialogue raw and naturalistic, offering a completely authentic depiction of how, when in context, one piece of news can turn two people’s lives upside down and change things between them forever. It is then how the two of them both react and deal with this one piece of news that is the key focus of the narrative, and Haigh’s delicate examination of this provides deeply engaging and often heart breaking viewing that lasts long in the memory.
With Haigh writing intuitionally minimalist dialogue, it requires two great performances, and indeed the two lead performances are note-perfect, but in different ways; Appearing in every scene, Charlotte Rampling delivers a performance of astounding effective subtlety, as the camera often focusses on her face for long, single takes in scenes where she is alone, she captures solely with expression and body language so many emotions and inner thoughts that often provide mesmerizing viewing.
Meanwhile only ever appearing scenes with Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay’s character gets the chance because of this to be far more vocal in his performance, and he too is exceptional, with his dialogue often offering plenty of subtext. We the viewer are only given the same hints as Kate with regards to what is actually going on inside Geoff’s mind, and though this certainly makes for more challenging viewing, this intentional move from Haigh only serves to add with the engagement we have for Kate as we do truly feel her pain, paranoia and insecurity as we only know what she knows with regards to what is going on inside her husband’s mind.
Though she has been married to him for 45 years, Geoff is at times as much a stranger to her as he is to us. 45 Years is most certainly not just one-sided, it offers both points of view to the revelations within the narrative, and Haigh is of course a way too intelligent a filmmaker to fall into that trap. However the narrative’s unique examination only in my view serves to make it more engaging, challenging and rewarding than most relationship dramas.
Visually the film is also perfectly put together, though a film very much about substance as opposed to style, the low-key (but very much intentional) style of the film only serves to enhance its mood and tone. Haigh often uses long takes, and the misty setting of the flat Norfolk Broads and Lol Crawley’s suitably bleak cinematography just add to the overall feeling of melancholy, longing and isolation that hangs heavily over the entire narrative.
As the anniversary party approaches Haigh remains very much in charge of his film and never flinches from abandoning the effective and often emotionally devastating approach of the narrative up to this point. I will of course refrain from saying what happens, but it delivers a blast of raw emotion and is one of the most unforgettable cinematic conclusions of the year, but is done with the utmost subtlety.
With two incredible leading performances, 45 Years is a deeply engaging, delicately observed, intelligent and challenging film that clutches at the heartstrings and never lets go. It is not only one of the year’s most unforgettable films, but cements Andrew Haigh as a filmmaker to watch.