From this day forward
A secret hidden in the shadows of a 45-year marriage comes to light
Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling both got their first international recognition in major British films of the 1960s. Courtenay, at age 25, had the title role in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) and Rampling, just turning 20, played the title character’s scene-stealing roommate in Georgy Girl (1966).
Both have had a very respectable kind of low-key stardom ever since, and in Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, the enduring qualities of their respective half-century careers serve the characterizations and the film itself very well.
Veteran moviegoers who remember the Courtenay of Billy Liar, Doctor Zhivago, The Dresser, etc., and the Rampling of The Night Porter, The Verdict, Farewell, My Lovely, etc., are in an especially good position to appreciate the subtleties of the central characterizations and the understated turbulences in Haigh’s little two-person drama. (But this deceptively modest tale should have real appeal to attentive audiences of every stripe, “veteran” or not.)
The Mercers, Kate (Rampling) and Geoff (Courtenay), live comfortably in retirement in their house in the English countryside. As the 45th anniversary of their marriage approaches, Geoff suddenly receives word that the body of his pre-Kate girlfriend, a young woman named Katya, has at long last been recovered from the Swiss glacier where she died in a hiking accident.
That news produces separate kinds of dull shock in both Geoff and Kate at first. But soon enough there are aftershocks that threaten their marriage and the entire basis of their relationship.
Kate knows next to nothing about that earlier relationship. When the news comes that Katya’s well-preserved corpse has been discovered in the glacial ice, Geoff belatedly reveals a little more about Katya and his past, and that’s enough for Kate to feel more disturbed than comforted by his frank but skimpy and somewhat hedged confessions.
Haigh’s script, adapted from a short story (“In Another Country” by David Constantine), puts the characters’ spoken lines at the service of what can be shown “in between the lines.” That is to say, it’s a screenplay in the best sense: What the characters say matters a lot, but what they don’t say does, too, and 45 Years is especially good at showing us what the characters read (or sometimes fail to notice) in each other’s silences and omissions.
Courtney’s Geoff is, metaphorically, yet another lonely long-distance runner. The power of his performance grows mostly out of the paradoxically “expressive” moments when he can’t bring himself to speak or to look at the person with whom he’s ostensibly conversing.
Rampling’s Kate is, if anything, even better. The drama that plays out on her face as she listens to Geoff or reflects silently on what she’s just seen or heard is the most moving and significant element of what otherwise might seem little more than a slight and merely anecdotal little picture.
On paper, 45 Years is a cautionary tale about the destructive power of unacknowledged secrets from the past. On the screen, it is also a character study and parable about the fragility of human affection and personal identity, and the perils of honesty and dishonesty alike, with ourselves and with others.