Andrew Haigh’s follow-up to 2011’s widely-acclaimed Weekend examines ghosts of the past in a slight if thoroughly gripping manner, aided by arguably career-best performances from Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.
As Kate (Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Courtenay) prepare to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary, Geoff learns that the perfectly preserved remains of Katya, his girlfriend from 50 years previous who perished when she fell down an Alpine crevasse, have been found. As Geoff’s long-buried feelings come flooding back, Kate is forced to confront the seemingly illogical jealously she feels towards a long-dead woman whose specter won’t soon leave.
What a refreshing drama this is simply because Haigh opts for the more plausibly restrained approach in which characters don’t have lengthy, breathless screaming matches, but rather internalise their conflict, conveyed here through quiet tension, passive-aggressive behaviour and loaded glances worth a thousand words. When we’re dealing middle-class retirees, isn’t all that so much more realistic?
Haigh also makes great use of long takes, focusing on Rampling’s face in particular for many of them, the uncertainty in her countenance breeding a similarly unsure feeling of where things might go in the audience. An unsettling eeriness creeps in later on in the movie which almost feels like it could give way to a supernatural twist out of a Guillermo del Toro horror flick, but of course, this isn’t that type of film.
The aching middle-classness of it all might prove a little wearisome for some, as well as the quiet, arguably dawdling pace and a canvas that’s nowhere near as subtle as it thinks it is – at one point we hear funereal church bells chiming after one particularly startling revelation – yet the performances tease enormous amounts of truth and suspense out of what could so easily have been tedious and underwhelming.
What can we take away from 45 Years? It’s ultimately about no matter how secure a relationship seems, you will never know exactly what the other person fully knows or is thinking, because in honesty, if we knew, how many of us would actually stick together? Haigh thankfully arrives at a challenging conclusion which is sure to have viewers debating its meaning for days afterwards as it lingers in the mind.
It’s certainly an acquired taste given the gentle approach, but Rampling and Courtenay make the most of compelling material and send it to the moon.
45 Years is available on VOD now