45 Years – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Slow-moving, yet soul-stirring, the drama 45 Years explores how secrets revealed from long ago can erode the foundation of a once-solid marriage.

Retired couple Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) are a few days away from their wedding anniversary party. Happily married for 45 years and without children, Kate has secured the venue, planned the music and menu, and insisted no top table (head table) should set them apart from their guests. Proud of their accomplishment and still in love after all these years, the couple’s relationship faces a crisis when Geoff receives a mysterious letter in German on Monday, just five days before the party.

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay star in 45 Years. Photo Copyright 2015 Agatha A. Nitecka/IFC Films

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay star in 45 Years. Photo Copyright 2015 Agatha A. Nitecka/IFC Films

Irrational Anger

To Geoff’s amazement and Kate’s dismay, the letter announces the discovery of the dead body of Geoff’s former girlfriend, Katya, who died 50 years ago after falling into a fissure in a glacier during their guided walk through the Swiss Alps. Due to global warming, her perfectly preserved 28-year-old body surfaced in a block of ice, and the authorities need Geoff to travel from his home in England to Switzerland to identify the body. He was listed as next of kin, a designation that makes Kate uneasy and suspicious.

She admits it’s irrational to be angry about things that happened in her husband’s past before they even knew each other, yet she wonders why the letter had to arrive now and why Geoff seems compelled to do something about it. Her growing sense of foreboding increases as the party draws closer and Geoff becomes lost in the past. Normally concerned with household projects – attempting to fix a problematic toilet that never seems to work right – he starts smoking again, sneaking to the attic to inspect old photographs of Katya, and sitting alone on a park bench deep in thought.

Questions About Their Marriage

Unable to resist the temptation, Kate questions Geoff about whether or not he would have married Katya if she had survived. Devastated to learn the truth, she then searches through old letters and photographs of her husband’s former lover and snoops around town to see if he’s visited a travel agent to make plans for a trip to Switzerland. What she discovers makes her even more uneasy about the situation.

Now convinced she was merely a rebound lover who filled in after Katya’s death, Kate begins to question everything about their relationship. As their solid marriage cracks like the fissure into which Katya fell, the revealed secrets also make their way to the surface like cold blocks of ice emerging from the deep.

Based on a Short Story

Subtle, nuanced performances, minimal dialogue that leaves much unsaid, and beautiful long shots of the English countryside combine to present viewers with an intense story of depth and honesty. Adapted into a screenplay by director Andrew Haigh from the short story “In Another Country” by David Constantine, the film examines choices made in the past and present, and how they may affect the future.

Though the specific details are unique to these characters, the concept of emotional intimacy between partners and the risks involved in full disclosure are relevant to anyone anywhere in any kind of romantic relationship. Geared toward the middle-aged and elderly, this excellent film may transcend generations with its heartfelt appeal.

45 Years

  • A couple preparing for their 45th wedding anniversary receives unexpected news that changes their lives.
  • Stars: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells, David Sibley
  • Director: Andrew Haigh
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for language and brief sexuality)
  • Additional Information: Silver Bear Winner: Best Actor and Best Actress (2015 Berlin International Film Festival). Rampling is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in this film

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