Cinema is often unfair to the elderly. There are few films that give an accurate representation of what it actually means to be old, at least not a growing old doesn’t involve them either going senile or just being a bit racist. However, with the discovery in recent years that as a group they will attend the cinema on mass, this has begun to change. The success of films like The King’s Speech seemed to activate the Grey Pound and we are now getting films that are more understanding of elderly life.
45 Years takes place during the week leading up to Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer’s (Tom Courtenay) 45th wedding anniversary. Having had to miss their 40th due to Geoff requiring surgery, they are going all out and having a party. However, plans are derailed when Geoff receives a letter. A letter that explains they have found the perfectly preserved body of his ex girlfriend, who died in an accident in the Alps 50 years before. Slowly this memory entangles its way into the roots of their relationship and begins to cause problems.
45 Years is a slow film, director Andrew Haigh is in no hurry to get anywhere and on this occasion that is exactly what the movie needs. Slow lingering shots take in the countryside surrounding the Mercer’s house and we are given time to stew over every feeling. Which in its own way perfectly represents the couples reaction to this letter. What at first seems a simple insight into the past, with a few bad memories thrown in, slowly becomes something more. As Geoff begins to look back on what could have been and Kate questions whether he regrets his life.
The couple at the heart of it is what make this film and while other characters do pop in and out of the story, it’s really Courtneay and Rampling’s show. They’re two wonderfully nuanced performances, which achieve as much with what they don’t say as with what they do. Courtenay’s Geoff seems to slowly disappear into his own head, haunted by the memories this letter has reawakened. While Rampling’s Kate is left on the sidelines, wondering what pieces she has been left to pick up. The two of them feel like a couple that has been through all of those 45 years, completely in tune with each other and thrown off guard when a discordant note is struck.
On the surface this film’s naturalistic dialogue and quaint settings makes for a simple tale. However, Haigh, who also co-wrote the film, gets so much more out of it. There is a depth to this film and it’s a dark depth. One that explores just how powerful human memory can be and how in one second it can take something that seems so strong and tear it down. It may well be one of the most interesting films of the year and it is one that you should be seeking out.