Starring-Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay
Scott’s Review #488
Reviewed October 1, 2016
In the case of 45 Years, acting is the clear highlight of the film and the main reason to view it. Seasoned veterans take center stage and give tremendous performances and lessons in the craft of acting. Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling carry the film. The subject of 45 Years is an enduring marriage tested by an outside revelation that escalates in importance into conflict and mixed emotions. The film moves at a very slow pace, and can be a challenge to the most patient of viewers, but the slow pace is warranted as the longevity of the characters marriage is the key to the film.
Geoff and Kate Mercer, a happy couple living in rural England, are excitedly planning their 45th wedding anniversary (the 40th having been canceled due to Geoff’s heart condition). They are a popular couple within their town, both kind and decent people, and the event will be attended by many. One day Geoff receives a letter from authorities in Switzerland- a young woman (Katya) he was once involved with, and presumed dead in 1962, has been found. Having fallen into an icy glacier, her body is preserved and she looks the same as she did then. Not knowing the extent of their relationship, Kate is riddled with multiple feelings including jealousy, curiosity, and guilt. Geoff and Kate’s marriage is tested.
45 Years is a mature film involving mature characters. Geoff and Kate are still in love after decades of relationship, but the introduction of Katya becomes unwelcome conflict. The film plays out in a slow way, but a realistic way, as marriage moves along slowly. Many scenes of Geoff and Kate’s day to day activities are shown- they walk their dog together, travel into town to shop, or simply relax and read the newspaper. Like real people do. This is an asset to the film. Real life is sometimes mundane and dull, but these little tasks are also pleasurable and soothing.
Geoff and Kate’s marriage contrasts with the relationship Geoff and Katya briefly had all those years ago (excitement, risk, youth) and one can understand Kate’s point of view. As details reveal themselves, Kate feels inferior. She is not young anymore and she thinks of Geoff and Katya and the life they may have had together if the accident had not occurred. Despite being dead, Katya becomes an obstacle in Kate’s mind.
The film wisely does not write Kate as a jealous shrew or one-dimensional. She fights her jealousy every step of the way and tries to be strong and realistic. Charlotte Rampling gives such a good, subtle, understated performance that it is easy to overlook how good she is. She does not have hysterical moments or a scene where she loses control. Rather, Rampling shows a series of complex emotions with her facial expressions.
Let’s not forget to mention Tom Courtenay. Imagine being in the golden years of your life and a long-lost lover (in spirit anyway) returns to the fold. Geoff cannot help but be transported to imagining a life with Katya had she remained alive. Kate asks Geoff if he would have married Katya- he cannot deny that he would have.
Several scenes show the couple engaging in “old people” issues- awkward lovemaking for example, which enhances the differences between when Geoff and Katya were in their prime. Geoff cannot help but be whisked back in time with thoughts and what-ifs.
A standout scene is when Kate and Geoff dance at their anniversary party. Having given a fantastic speech professing his enduring love for her, they causally dance. Kate is both touched and pained and as the scene goes along she unravels in a quite manner. She explodes internally.
Sometimes perhaps a tad too slowly paced, I get the point of pacing 45 Years in this way. After all, nearly 50 years of marriage is a long time and a multitude of similar days will pass with few important moments. Thanks to superlative acting, I was able to overlook this and be astounded at the complexities both Rampling and Courtenay bring to the table.