Film Review: 45 Years

3 minutes




Tender, heartbreaking and endlessly engaging, the third feature by the hand of one of England’s most intriguing directors is one of the must-see films of the year. Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years (2015) is a quiet study of a seemingly comfortable marriage torn apart by the slow unravelling of a shelved moment. With a spotlight on the superlative performances of Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, what Haigh crafts for the screen is something akin to near perfection. There is never a wasted moment, never a spare second left to boredom. Haigh has taken David Constantine’s short story – a mere twelve pages in print – and expanded the world while managing to distil every beat to crystalline clarity.

It’s a thoroughly pleasurable watch, especially for those who come to the cinema in search of depth of direction, intelligent writing and smart performances. Geoff and Kate Mercer (Courtenay and Rampling, respectively) live in the quiet countryside of Norfolk, choosing the spend their golden years in peace and contemplative partnership. We follow them for one week – perhaps the most important week they have every spent together – in the run up to their 45th wedding anniversary party on Saturday. During that time, the good-natured Kate finds her trust and loyalty tested when an old secret of Geoff’s comes to the surface. What follows is a deliberate and heart-rending drama about what happens when the past returns to haunt you. Simply put: this is Rampling’s film and she is spellbinding. Shown entirely from Kate’s point of view, 45 Years is a masterclass in how to present the experience of heartbreak and betrayal.

While the film is quiet, the secrets unfurling in a rather undramatic fashion, the tension in the atmosphere is palpable. Kate’s wariness to be supportive of her husband’s emotional turmoil while trying not to fall to pieces or question her marriage to him all reads on Rampling’s world-weary visage. It’s beautifully done. Haigh deserves major accolades if only for managing to mould a moment in time into a full length, taut, but completely contemplative slice of quotidian drama. Haigh has shown us time and again he can find the depth in the pauses (consult Weekend (2011) for further reference). Tight shots of Kate’s face hone in on the psychological dramas beneath the calm surface – there are moments he even cuts Geoff out of the frame so we only see Kate’s reaction.

Haigh’s willingness to allow the audience us to stay with the couple for one week gives us the opportunity to experience the highs and lows of growing old. We rarely get to see older couples together, realistically drawn, doing everything from dancing irreverently to fighting to having a quiet dinner together and steered away from geezer archetypes. 45 Years is arguably the most heartbreaking drama of the year, but it is worth every moment of sadness. Full of contemplation, with a touch of mourning for a life that could have been, it will leave you wondering about the choices you have made in your own life, the paths you have chosen and whether or not it was worth it. Audiences deserve this kind of intellectual and sentimental fare; Haigh delivers.

Allie Gemmill | @alliegem

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