It isn’t often that films deal with older people, but 45 Years is a great example of how a story about the accumulation of time between a couple forges a bond but also has room for secrets. It also will make great arguments/discussions for the car ride home.
45 Years begins with classic English countryside porn. The Mercers, Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling, are retired and live near a village and have a dog and read books. In one week they will celebrate their 45th anniversary. What could be better? A letter arrives in the post, though, that changes everything.
It seems that Courtenay had a girlfriend before Rampling, who died in a mountaineering accident in Switzerland over 50 years ago. She was never found, until now, preserved in ice. This shakes up Courtenay. Rampling knew about her, but is unnerved as she finds herself becoming jealous of a woman that has been dead for over half a century.
The script, written by director Andrew Haigh, is extremely subtle. There are no huge scenes, no broken crockery. But Rampling slowly realizes she didn’t fully know the man she’s been married to for so long. She makes a mistake by snooping around in the attic and finding something else about her husband’s old girlfriend, and makes another mistake by asking him whether he would have married her. He says yes a bit too quickly and authoritatively. Be careful about asking questions you don’t know the answer to.
The acting is exquisite. Courtenay plays a man that has been slowed down by illness, and who is forcibly thrust back into his past. He is still in love with his old flame, and it’s interesting that the woman has been preserved. “She looks like she did in1962, while I look like this,” he says. Rampling, for her part, understands that she can’t hold him responsible for events that happened before they even knew each other, but in her lovely lined face we see the effects of the past make their impact.
45 Years is a terrific film, one of great insight and feeling. Rampling well deserves her Oscar nomination (she has made many films, but this is her first. I have always admired her performance in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories) and should have had more, especially the screenplay.