REVIEW BY CHRISTINE THOMPSON
A secret is revealed that unravels the thread of a long and – happy? marriage.
With “45 Years,” we are offered a perspective into the lives of a long-married couple. The film takes place over a week in the lives of Kate and Geoff Mercer (Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay), on the eve of their 45th wedding anniversary. Writer/director Andrew Haigh guides the narrative with skill, weaving the day-to-day events of their lives with a secret from the husband’s past.
The couple lives their retirement out in the idyllic English countryside in a cottage with dogs and memorabilia. Kate is in the last few days of planning a big party for their 45th wedding anniversary. What should be a joyous celebration of their life together comes undone as she suspects and confirms the man she’s been sharing space with is hiding something.
Geoff receives a letter from abroad – a body has been found, frozen in the ice in Switzerland. “They’ve found Katya,” he tells Kate with disbelief in his voice. “My Katya.” Kate’s response of “who” and his “surely I’ve told you,” sets the stage for her creeping suspicion, as Geoff is consumed in reverie and malaise for a prior life lived, and a love that means more to the him that he’s willing to admit to Kate.
Determined to find out more about the shadow that has cast a pall over her marriage (a pall she didn’t know existed -though the audience does, thanks to the masterful opening scenes) she creeps to the attic to find photos and old movie footage, and what she sees reveals why Geoff has never really forgotten the love of his youthful wanderings. Woven throughout the film is the day-to-day interactions between the two, and the perfectly chosen music from The Platters “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”
Charlotte Rampling turns in a delicately nuanced performance here which earned her an Oscar nomination. Her face becomes a mask of a woman who keeps up appearances as she finds she is the wife of a man who, if fate had not intervened, may not have been her husband at all. Occasionally and heartbreakingly, she allows us to see through the cracks in her mask.
In the party scene at the end of the movie, Geoff’s toast of love and commitment to his wife ends with a reaction from Kate that completely unmasks her true feelings… but only for a brief few seconds… “45 Years” leaves us very, very sad.