Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) are about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary when Geoff receives a letter saying the body of a former girlfriend has been found; 50 years after she died. This sets Geoff reminiscing about the past, and Kate becomes insecure about her place in the marriage.
Based on a short story by David Constantine, 45 Years is an examination of a well-established marriage that suddenly hits the rocks. Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling are well matched in the film, although there are times when Rampling seems less comfortable in her character’s skin than Courtenay. The actress makes up for it in scenes with little dialogue, where she is powerful and engaging, and her portrayal of a woman suddenly realising that cracks are opening in her marriage is painful and moving. The rest of the cast is made up of Geraldine James, Dolly Wells and Richard Cunningham.
Constantine’s short story was adapted for the screen by director Andrew Haigh and, while there are scenes of extreme tenderness and a creeping sense of unease about the film, there are times when the expository dialogue is rather clunky and awkward. This, however, is almost balanced out with some beautifully simple dialogue, mainly from Geoff, who finds this new development in his life causing him to look back; ‘She looks like she did in 1962, and I look like this’.
As director, Andrew Haigh allows Geoff and Kate to dominate the screen, and show the dissolution of the marriage through her eyes; it is her paranoia and her anger that kick start the crumbles in the walls of their relationship, and even though Geoff tries to make up for his week’s worth of indulgence, and his actions causing his wife to feel insecure, it is clear that the seed has been planted, and it has taken root. The chemistry between Rampling and Courtenay is great, although Rampling seems to struggle from time to time, and Geraldine James does well with her role as an old friend on the outside looking in.
In all, 45 Years is a strong examination of the cracks that can appear in a marriage seemingly too strong to fail, the power of secrets untold, and the creeping doubts that can surface after years and years. Rampling does well enough, although she is not always entirely convincing, and Tom Courtenay shines in this engaging but slightly patchy drama.