45 Years is a portrait of marriage, built around the little things that we overlook, or don’t talk about, until something rises to the surface and changes things so much that you can’t see the other person in the light that you once did. It’s based upon a short story, In Another Country, written by David Constantine, adapted and directed by Andrew Haigh, an indie filmmaker known for his widely praised 2011 breakthrough, Weekend.
Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) and her husband, Geoff (Tom Courtenay), are planning a forty-fifth anniversary party. A strange year to plan an anniversary but the film is quick to point out that something came up with Geoff’s health that prevented them from celebrating their fortieth. Everything, at first, is simple and normal until Kate gives Geoff a letter. Geoff is taken back at first and that’s when we learn what will effect the rest of the movie. A woman, Katya – a woman that he was in love with before Kate – has been found after nearly fifty years, encased in ice, looking not a day older than when Geoff last saw her. It’s there that things began to unravel as doubt about their marriage begin to seep into Kate’s mind, and all the big and little things that they didn’t do begin to pile up, and years of unspoken conflict begin to rise to the surface and spill into the present.
The film’s power is the decision to follow Kate through the discovery process, every little piece of information revealed to the audience – and Kate – slowly over a period of the week leading up to their anniversary, the tension between the two growing, until it’s clear that Kate isn’t sure of the man she’s spent a majority of her life, and the life that they’ve built together. It’s obvious from the very beginning that Kate is uncomfortable with the idea of Katya, but she wants to be open with her husband, she wants him to tell her what he’s thinking and feeling until everything he says becomes too hurtful and the level of doubt becomes too much for Kate to bear, which culminates in an ambiguous, devastating final scene.
Ultimately, the film owes virtually everything to Charlotte Rampling’s restrained, utterly believable performance, her best scenes relying on not a single line of the dialogue, but the expressions on her face.
It’s a haunting film, one that I’m sure I’ll be thinking about for a long time.