Andrew Haigh’s previous endeavour Weekend, was all about spontaneous, instant love, of a glorious, chance meeting at a gay club. His latest, however, tackles relationships from the other end of the spectrum, of an enduring, sustained marriage spanning for almost half a century. Yet again this immensely talented filmmaker has displayed an aptitude for portraying the nuances and subtleties of love, in a truly moving, and tremendously naturalistic drama.
It’s the week leading up to the 45th wedding anniversary of Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling), with a big, yet unostentatious party in the planning. However Geoff receives a letter to inform him that the body of his first love has been found, following her untimely, accidental death in 1962. Affecting him more than perhaps expected, he has a desire to journey to Switzerland to see the body, which causes a rift in his marriage. Kate is unable to process the situation, feeling inferior, like she was always just a back-up option, as tensions mount in the build up to the big day.
Haigh has structured his tale masterfully, as we pensively edge closer to the party, counting down until the weekend, with each passing day putting more and more strain on their relationship, ramping up the disharmony slowly, but surely. Kate’s reaction may seem somewhat irrational on the surface – these events are decades old, and were prior to her first meeting Geoff – but such is the crafting of this screenplay, and Rampling’s quite sensational performance, that you’re able to believe, and invest in her fears, and despondency.
The fact we haven’t seen any of their relationship leading up to this week doesn’t matter either, as within these few days we are able to understand who these people are, and what they mean to one another. If anything, catching up with them both later on in life enhances the profundity of it all. Her reaction doesn’t feel so unfounded, whereas in many films depicting younger couples, their relationship can seem more volatile, and less steady, as though it can all go wrong at any given moment. But that’s a point that Geoff and Kate have passed – a long time ago – with a bond so strong, that the fact these arguments has the potential to tear them apart and fracture their marriage indefinitely, makes it all the more significant and difficult to take.
Both performances are nothing short of incredible either, with Rampling in particular turning in one of her very best to date. The subtlety and ability to express so much with just a single look, or word, is unnervingly impressive. Their chemistry is so palpable too, and to be portraying a married couple of so many years, you’d think it almost impossible to express that on screen and have the audience believe in this companionship – and yet we abide wholeheartedly. It’s not just the actors who deserve this level of commendation either, as Haigh displays a talent for realism in a way that could see him enjoy a career as prosperous as that of Mike Leigh or Ken Loach. He allows his actors so much freedom, and you can just tell they love working for him.
45 Years is remarkable cinema, it’s tender, touching and ineffably poignant. It really makes you appreciate all of the small things in life, as the way Kate and Geoff reminisce about their youth with such minimum contrivance is inspiring and sincere. For any film to have such a profound effect really is the mark of a quite astounding piece of cinema.