45 Years seems on the surface to be nothing more than another milquetoast domestic drama set in the English countryside. Make no mistake 45 Years is the furthest from a bland domestic drama, even if the central characters are a childless retired couple, Kate and Geoff (played by the amazing Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay). Their marital bliss among the English Countryside is shattered when an unexpected letter arrives a week before their anniversary party.
Considering what is contained in that epistle, the situation that they suddenly find themselves in rocks the foundation of their marriage to the core.
All the credit in the world should go to the director Andrew Haigh, who put his faith in his two leads and allowed them to show just how this revelation (of which kate knew very little) is about to change their entire perspective on the present. The tension in 45 Years builds like a Bronte story as the films tension grows and grows as we learn more about the new haunting presence in their relationship. The cracks in their relationship appear in tiny nerve racking increments.
While Kate and Geoff resume their routines as best they can – Geoff tries to fix a broken toilet and relaxes reading Kierkegaard, Kate walks the dog and tends to finalizing the party details (they are planning on having a 45th wedding anniversary party) – it becomes quickly apparent that something has changed in Geoff; he seems to have become very distracted since receiving the letter and resumes his old smoking habit despite having had bypass surgery five years ago. Kate grows very concerned when her husband sneaks off to the travel agent in town to find out about the possibility of going to Switzerland.
Well, matters come to a head that evening. As a way of deflecting from what’s going on Geoff spontaneously decides that he wants to dance with a wife and put on the oldie Stagger Lee. Geoff then decides he’s going to show her how he really feels and want to take her to bed. Just when we started to feel at ease, even after Geoff utters “ I hope I remember what to do”, Kate utters three words that often signal something is very wrong Mid-coitus: “Open Your Eyes.” And just like that the mood is gone and they are off to bed.
45 Years is a simply told tale with little dialogue, but Haigh uses a number of subtle reminders to clue the audience in to what is transpiring without resorting to cheap gimmicks. It was a brilliant decision to have Kate consider buying her husband (Geoff) a watch, but then fail to do so. Even the lack of photos of Kate and Geoff’s life together certainly convey the distance that Geoff must have always felt towards Kate. Haigh was very adept at pinpointing stellar musical selections that not only provided telling commentary but was unobtrusive as well. The highlight had to be the musical selection playing in the car when Kate was telling her friend about Geoff’s behavior Young Girl, Get Out Of My Mind by Gary Puckett.
The music plays an essential element of what is the most shattering and stunning conclusion of any film in 2015. It was naïve of anyone to hope that this tale was going to end with those two walking off into the sunset happy. Alas, what we have here is a fantastic, human tale, full of truths and sadness and history.