Fans of brooding English relationship dramas will surely relish the chance to wallow in the existential malaise of 45 Years for a couple of hours on an airplane. Especially if one comes equipped with a hot cup of tea and a good set of noise cancelling headphones to perfectly capture the stark, beautifully-shot silences of the wintery Norfolk countryside where the film is set.
The third feature from acclaimed UK writer-director Andrew Haigh, who made a name for himself with the gay-themed Greek Pete, the indie sensation Weekend and HBO’s award-winning dramedy Looking, which documented the lives and loves of an eclectic group of young gay men in present-day San Francisco, some critics hailed 45 Years as a huge departure for Haigh. But any serious fan of Haigh’s work can tell you that the only thing different about the loving, complicated and ultimately, deeply troubled, retired couple at the heart of 45 Years is that they’re straight. Everything else about this wistful, often achingly-real tale of love, loss, loneliness and regret is vintage Haigh.
Starring British New Wave acting icon Tom Courtenay (Billy Liar, The Dresser) as Geoff and the always amazing Charlotte Rampling (The Damned, Swimming Pool) as his wife Kate, 45 Years is the story of a childless, happily married couple whose idyllic retirement in the country is irrevocably changed by a stunning revelation from Geoff’s past. Set over the week leading up to the couple’s 45th wedding anniversary, Haigh underplays the traditional crumbling marriage theatrics here in favor of a truly unnerving, slow burn drama that builds to a devastating twist on the eve of the couple’s anniversary.
Turning in subtle, career-best performances as a longtime couple in a tailspin, Courtenay and Rampling shared a number of high-profile awards for the film last year, including top acting honors at the Berlin International Film Festival, but the real star of this show here is Rampling. Delivering a towering, Oscar-nominated performance as a woman whose life is suddenly transformed by something that happened years before she even met her husband, Rampling is nothing short of revelatory.
There is a moment about an hour into the film when Kate uncovers another layer to the mystery of Geoff’s past that is truly heartbreaking, and watching Rampling’s cool, measured reaction to it is like a mini master class on the art of onscreen acting. Seriously, I could barely breathe. Rampling nails it and then some. And knowing how that revelation rattles the foundation of everything Kate thought she knew about the man she’s lived with for almost half a century, not to mention every decision they’ve ever made as a couple, is simply shattering.
Adapted by Haigh from the short story In Another Country by award-winning author and poet David Constantine, 45 Years is a masterful, deliberately paced drama that will linger in your memory, like a box of fading photos in the attic or the scent of a former lover’s perfume, for days afterwards. And if you’re a fan of that type of thing, you won’t want to miss a moment of it.
Now playing on select United, Air New Zealand, Hawaiian Airlines and Air France flights worldwide, 45 Years is also available via streaming at Amazon Video, Google Play and iTunes.