"45 Years" Review

Title: 45 Years 
Director: Andrew Haigh 
Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay 
Studio: Artificial Eye 
Genre(s): Drama 
Rated: R (For language and brief sexuality)

In a day and age where two years of marriage is considered some sort of landmark, it is truly something when a couple can make the claim that they have been married for forty five years. “45 Years” follows a couple who are planning a special anniversary party for such an occasion (a health crisis prevented them from celebrating the more logical 40 th anniversary). The couple in question are Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) Mercer, and their week should theoretically just involve planning for the event, dress purchasing, and hunting down photos of this left-winged, childless couple throughout the years. Instead, news comes in that neither one of them may be prepared to deal with: Geoff's ex-girlfriend has been found frozen and perfectly preserved after she fell into an Alpine crevasse fifty years ago.

Kate knew of this girlfriend before she married her husband, but the idea that she would somehow come back into their lives long after she had died was obviously not on the forefront of their minds. Because they have been married so long these two adults are initially able to talk about the situation with maturity and a calm state. As the week goes on the conversations become more strained as Kate begins to realize how much this woman meant to her husband. When she asks him if he would have married her had she survived he simply answers “yes.” Maybe it isn't a very tactful thing to say, but at this point he is comfortable enough in his marriage that he sees no reason to be anything but honest.

It speaks volumes about Kate that this admission brings along a little bit of jealousy (even after being married all these years). This is a delicate situation either way you look at it though. Geoff never had the chance to properly say goodbye to his ex-girlfriend, and in a way she is back in his life now. That said, he is also Kate's husband, and has devoted his life to her for the past forty five years. This is not a good situation for either of them. It can't be helped and neither of them are wrong for feeling what they are feeling. Life just deals you a rough hand of cards sometimes, and with this play, both of them are having a difficult time deciding what their next move should be. While both have some issues to work out in all this, Kate seems to have more to lose.

She rightfully deserves to be called the only woman in Geoff's life, and that status has just been challenged in a big way. Now when she looks through her life – at all the things she and her husband decided – she wonders just how much of those choices were a reflection of things that didn't work out in the previous relationship. At one point she poetically muses “I smell Katya's perfume in the room,” and we all know exactly what she means. This situation not only clouds the marriage as it currently stands, but it is a reminder of things that could have been. All things considered I believe Geoff did very well for himself when he married Kate. She is much more understanding about this situation than she has any right to be, and if he can keep himself from pushing his luck she just may remain that way.

Both Rampling and Courtenay excel in their parts. They have excellent chemistry that also has an air of authenticity that surrounds everything they do and say. We truly believe they have been together as long as they say they have, and they carry on their days as if they have never spent a day apart from one another. It's this sensitive portrayal that makes the movie a bit hard to watch at times, but also engaging at the same time. The direction by Andrew Haigh is not the kind of direction that normally gets attention because it's subtle and reserved, but that style fits this movie like a glove. Despite the explosive revelation early in the film, it only works if it starts as a non-issue and slowly becomes an issue as the film goes on. I suspect that audience members will debate which character is right when “45 Years” comes to its somber conclusion. The genius of the whole thing is that no one should have to be right.