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Review: ’45 Years’ is a slow burn that leaves an indelible mark Special

Posted Jan 22, 2016 by Sarah Gopaul
’45 Years’ is the compelling and emotional tale of a marriage inconceivably strained by decades-long secrets on the eve of their anniversary, featuring a poignant performance by best actress Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling.
Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling star in  45 Years
Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling star in '45 Years'
Mongrel Media
People always marvel at couples whose relationships have lasted several decades, let alone a half-century or more. The subjects of their admiration often admit it hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been good enough that they still want to be together. The less inspirational response asks, “Who wants to start again after x number of years?” After so long, it’s easy to assume you know everything there is to know about your partner and there couldn’t possibly be any surprises left… at least certainly not anything earth-shattering. Unfortunately that theory is proven false in 45 Years.
The week before the Mercer’s wedding anniversary, Geoff (Tom Courtenay) receives some shocking news that drudges up long-buried emotions. Kate (Charlotte Rampling) does her best to be supportive, but she also can’t help but wonder why this information is having such a significant effect on her husband. After 45 years of marriage and their fair share of ups and downs, how could there possibly remain any secrets between them. But each day they drift inconceivably further apart, pushing Kate to look deeper into Geoff’s past to discover the truth. However each realization is more painful than the last and the dark cloud looming over their celebration becomes larger with each approaching day.
This is an incredibly slow burn that uses each of its 95 minutes to deliberately build the narrative tension. By observing the Mercers routines and interactions, the audience is better able to grasp the level of distress this incident has introduced into their marriage. Kate doesn’t know how to handle her seemingly unwarranted anxiety and doubts as Geoff is obviously forthcoming about some details and not others. Being upset about something that occurred so long ago seems irrational, but when she considers the influence it may have had on their entire relationship his omissions become increasingly more devastating. Prior to the film’s start, it’s difficult to imagine what could cause such a rift; but as the picture progresses, it becomes difficult to conceive of a dedicated and sensible wife having any other reaction.
Rampling is absolutely brilliant. The levels of quiet suffering she conveys are unquestionably heartbreaking. In a word, her performance is genuine – so much so, that it’s easy to understand and relate to her reasoning and state of mind given the changing circumstances. It’s all in her eyes; they’re so expressive that even when she’s smiling and feigning enjoyment, the camera can see the sadness permeating beneath the surface. Kate is very strong and in no need of a shoulder to cry on, but it’s impossible not to want to offer her one. In spite of Geoff being her partner, Courtenay is very much a supporting player in this drama. Even though his reaction sets the events in motion, it’s very much Kate’s story. Nonetheless, his absentminded brooding and occasional burst of emotion are key to the movie’s success.
As depressing as the narrative trajectory may be, it is also a beautiful picture that uncannily captures complex human emotions with great skill in front and behind the camera. And Rampling’s performance is unarguably deserving of the awards recognition she’s received thus far.
Director: Andrew Haigh
Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay and Geraldine James