Review © Jane Freebury
It was good to hear that the talented, youngish director Andrew Haigh had launched into new territory. He achieved exceptional naturalism in Weekend, about two young men who meet at a club on a one night stand, and he might offer fresh insights into the world of the long-term married. What would he do with this, his third feature?
He was facing tough competition. Long marriages have been the subject of some outstanding films recently, like Mike Leigh’s cosy, comfy Another Year, Roger Michell’s jittery escapade to Paris, Le Week-End, and Michael Haneke’s tour de force, Amour. There is no shortage of potential viewers in this space either, as older audiences fill the cinemas in increasing numbers. A relationship that’s lasted a very long time defies easy explanation and I admire the filmmaker who is brave enough to explore it, let alone dissect it.
Haigh takes us to the home of a retired couple, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay), living a pleasant retired life in Norfolk. Kate is the active former head teacher, Geoff the former manager in the local factory. They have a sweet rural cottage, are respected by former work colleagues, have a wide circle of friends, and have travelled overseas. Eventually we learn that they are childless.
Casting both Rampling and Courtenay in 45 Years suggests that Kate and Geoff were pretty hot property in their day. Rampling’s very presence signifies sensuality while Courtenay was a bit of a lad in his day in sixties classics like Billy Liar. But time has taken its toll and Geoff has had a bypass, has developed a tendency to dither and is a bit of a sad sack.
Out of the blue, a letter arrives from Germany informing Geoff that the body of a young woman once his girlfriend has been found in the glacier fissure into which she fell when they were trekking. Just what she meant to him, and other new facts about this old relationship that ended in such terrible circumstances emerge. The substance of the narrative then becomes how each partner deals with this news.
The British critics have fallen over themselves to garland this film, but I wasn’t that convinced by Geoff’s dilemma. Of course he would feel disoriented and emotional and some, it’s only natural and only natural that Kate might feel a bit uneasy, for a while at least.
Perhaps the problem is in essence their mutual inability to communicate with each other, leaving her alone and him slow to re-affirm his commitment to the marriage.
The sudden, dawning realisation in the final frames is open to several different readings. Empowering or disempowering. You take your pick.