Arts Review, Movies
Andrew Haigh, director & script based on the story “In another country” by David Constantine
Starring: Charlotte Rampling (Kate), Tom Courtenay (Geoff)
In theatre, they would call 45 Years a two-hander. There really isn’t an equivalent term in modern film, where the concept of two people talking about their lives and troubles, would be normally deemed not cinematic enough to be produced. Happily, the producers of this forceful British character study are made of sterner stuff. The result is one of finest dramas of the past year, featuring a great performance by Charlotte Rampling and a fine if understated one by Tom Courtenay.
Rampling plays Kate Mercer, a retired schoolteacher, who has spent her entire adult life married to Courtenay’s Geoff, a leftist thinker who nonetheless worked for decades in an office in a Norfolk factory. Their pleasant “golden years” is suddenly shaken to its roots when Geoff receives a letter from Swiss authorities letting him know that they’ve found the body of his former fiancée Katia, who died in a mountain climbing accident in 1962. Her body, perfectly preserved in ice has been found due to thawing conditions in the area and Geoff is being asked by the Swiss to come to claim her as he is listed as next of kin.
The revelation shocks Kate, who knew about Geoff’s former lover but had never realised how close the two were to being married—which “next of kin” certainly implies. Over the course of the week leading up to the couple’s 45th wedding anniversary, which will be celebrated in grand style in the district’s chief city Norwich, the marriage slowly unravels. Geoff becomes obsessed with memories of Katia, spending time in the attic, where he has her letters and photos. Kate, the younger and more active of the two, spends time with friends planning the anniversary party but also finds her certitude about her relationship with Geoff undermined whenever the two are together. As she puts it, “the smell of Katia’s perfume is pervading our house.”
Rarely has the diminution of love been made more manifest than in Rampling’s beautifully rendered performance.
Rampling and Courtenay are veterans, whose careers go back to the heyday of British film in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, and it was appropriate that they garnered the best actress and actor awards at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival. For Courtenay, whose early work included The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and Dr. Zhivago, the role of Geoff has provided him with the opportunity to quietly but forcefully create a character, whose angry phlegmatic attitudes seem solidly British. Rampling, who gained early fame in Georgy Girl and The Night Porter, has had a more successful cinema career than the more theatrically oriented Courtenay; like Kristin Scott Thomas, she’s continued to be a force in French films, including such hits as The Swimming Pool and Lemming. She is given the leading role in this drama and she seizes it, making Kate Mercer a fully nuanced individual, whose romantic nature is undercut by gradual revelations of her husband’s past.
The Zoomer effect seems to becoming more emphatic in contemporary art house cinema. Films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet are showing that there’s an audience for well made dramas about people in their sixties and beyond. 45 Years is a welcome addition to the genre.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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