Andrew Haigh’s previous cinematic outing, ‘Weekend’, is one of the best relationship dramas released in the last 5 years. What made it work so well was its sense of authenticity; the actors get so absorbed in their characters that they feel like real people, and a lot of the scenes are just conversations between the leads you can picture yourself having. While a bit more of a cinematic experience than its predecessor, his new movie ’45 Years’ also gives us this sense of realism and has proven to be one of the best films of the year.
The story is set in the week leading up to the 45th wedding anniversary of Kate and Geoff Mercer (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, respectively). After Geoff receives news about a past event he kept from his wife, her trust in their marriage slowly begins to unravel as the days count down. This framing device actually works really effectively of giving a day-by-day account of how the couple deal with this news, particularly Kate. What’s more interesting is that their moods and opinions go up and down throughout the week, very much like people react to shocking news.
Both actors are absolutely wonderful, and give two of the best performances of the year. Rampling manages to be introspective and understated without being a pushover and very subtly joyful in certain moments. Courtenay makes Geoff but quirky yet accessible; he’s not an overly strange man, but he’s both restrained and temperamental, having odd reactions to certain scenes. These characters complement each other and allow their conflict to fester from differing viewpoints, adding a lot of nuances and strengthening their bond. They are possibly the best couples onscreen this year.
As with ‘Weekend’, the music is minimal, almost non-existent, and it creates a stark and dry atmosphere. This actually works in the movie’s favour as it fleshes out the story being told. As stated above, there are certain cinematic moments in the film, like a scene being colourfully described in order to get its symbolic meaning across, or an interlude where Kate plays the piano. However, they’re very few and far between and can help rather than hinder it. It builds up the narrative weight of their marriage, leading to a fascinating denouement that plays against expectation and is richer for it.
What makes ’45 Years’ such a masterpiece is its focus on the characters and the thematic substance of their tale. Ideas of intimacy, trust, how well you really know someone and how your world view and life’s structure can so easily fall apart are all explored here. What’s even better is that we’re never given an easy answer, leaving the movie on a powerfully ambiguous note. It’s a seminal drama, wonderfully acted and produced, and creates a fictional relationship with pathos, history, poignancy and despair.