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Film Review: 45 Years
In 2015, Andrew Haigh released 45 Years, based on the short story Another Country by Andrew Constantine. Starring Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells, Max Rudd, David Sibley, Sam Alexander, Richard Cunningham, Kevin Matadeen, and Hannah Chalmers, the film grossed $16.9 million at the box office. Winner of the London Film Critics’ Circle Awards for British/Irish Film of the Year, Actress of the Year, and Actor of the Year, the film was nominated for the British Independent Film Awards for Best British Independent Film, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, and Producer of the Year as well as the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Five years after Kate and Geoff Mercer canceled their 40th wedding anniversary due to the former’s heart bypass surgery, the two are now planning to celebrate their 45th anniversary with their friends at the Assembly House in Norwich. However, a week before the party, Geoff receives a letter from Switzerland stating that the body of his lover in the 1960s has become visible in a melting glacier where she fell more than five decades ago. Now, Kate begins to see that there is more on Geoff’s mind about the discovery than he initially let on.
Employing an interesting concept for its plot, 45 Years is actually a pretty decent film. One good aspect to it is Courtenay’s performance. Initially, while his acting seems bad, it becomes better upon realization that he’s playing the part of an old man who can’t stop fumbling around and think straight very well. It’s easy to get the emotion Goeff is experiencing when the memories of his old lover come flooding back and Courtenay is able to put the right inflection and pauses when trying to remember what to say, especially when it comes to the anniversary toast. Further, the love that Geoff has for his wife is expressed very well, such as the scene where he’s asking Kate if she wants to cuddle. Courtenay convincingly makes Geoff’s request sound truly genuine.
However, while Courtenay gives a good performance, Rampling’s isn’t all that memorable and it’s curious as to how the Academy thought it worthy of a nomination. Throughout the film, Kate is seen as growing from being “hardly cross” about thinking back on how Geoff and Katya used to be lovers to downright hostile at even thinking about the two or anything about Katya herself. It presents itself with a great chance to demonstrate an actor or actress’ range. However, Rampling doesn’t display a whole lot of range and essentially retains one note throughout the film, occasionally slipping into overacting when trying to convey the rage Kate feels. While it could be interpreted as Rampling is giving a performance where she doesn’t visibly show the anger and feeling of betrayal that Kate feels, it ultimately seems that Rampling is just giving a mostly wooden performance.
That being said, the way the film is played out and executed is actually pretty engaging, with neither party being completely clean. When it comes to Geoff, it’s true that he’s a doddering old fool, but he must have been a doddering young fool early on in his relationship with Kate as well, seeing as he wasn’t completely honest about what happened with Katya before they met. Further, while it’s clear that he loves Kate, he seems to be laying it on a bit thick when reminiscing about the time he spent with his former lover. It goes so far as to the guy even saying he’s smelling Katya’s perfume and looking at keeping memorabilia of Katya in the attic.
At the same time, Kate may be feeling betrayed and like a second choice for Geoff, but she’s also the one who encouraged Geoff to talk about his relationship after he’s able to translate the letter and then insists that Geoff show her Katya’s picture.
The film ultimately paints a picture of a marriage where the couple has spent 45 years together, but while they have spent that long with each other, they don’t trust each other like a husband and wife who have spent so many years together should. He doesn’t trust her with the past and hid it until forced to speak up about it, which ended up causing her to have trust issues and doubt how much he loved her. What’s more is though they make the decision to start again, it’s implied that as the film ends, they may be trying to move forward, but it’s always going to be in the back of their minds. The film demonstrates that being open with a significant other is key to a marriage being successful when the past comes back to bite one or the other.
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