DVD Review: 45 Years

“You really believe you haven’t been enough for me?
No. I think I was enough for you, I’m just not sure you do.”

Andrew Haigh’s last cinematic work Weekend is easily labelled a gay film, but truly at its heart is an aching love story in its infancy. And the same is true of 45 Years at the other end of the spectrum – a movie about old people but more than that, what happens to love in the course of a long relationship – in this case, a marriage of 45 years between Kate and Geoff Mercer. 

Adapted by Haigh from the short story In Another Country by David Constantine, the Mercers reside in placid retirement in the Norfolk they’ve always lived and worked in, plotting a big celebration for their 45th wedding anniversary. Their preparations are disrupted though when a letter arrives from Switzerland, notifying Geoff of the discovery of the body of Katya, his ex-girlfriend who fell into an Alpine crevasse 50 years ago. 

It turns out the authorities have contacted him as he was put down as her next of kin, instantly raising Kate’s suspicions as she had presumed it was not a serious relationship and as she discovers more and more – that they had pretended to be married, that a trove of memories are secreted in their attic – the foundations of their marriage are subtly but surely rocked. It’s not a film of grand gestures, of explosive emotion, but it’s all the more powerful for it.

Haigh keeps the whole film naturalistic and the muted palette of Lol Crawley’s cinematography suggests a gentle fading away of love, of life, of possibility. Rampling is just superb as the former headteacher who can’t comprehend the depth of feeling that has been hidden from her, tiny details demonstrating the turmoil beneath that near-inscrutable face – the angry switching off of a radio playing a recognisable song, a gorgeous sequence at the piano, the Haneke-like ambiguity of a near wordless-finale that is stunningly done.

Tom Courtenay’s Geoff is also good, his increasingly crotchety Geoff working through years of suppressed feeling, but this is Rampling’s film (as recognised by a well-deserved Oscar nomination) as her slow recognition of how even a lifetime together can leave you in the company of strangers, the once familiar imperceptibly but unutterably altered. Haigh is clearly becoming a film-maker to treasure. 

[Edit: this was was written before Rampling’s reported comments on the Oscars and diversity]

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