|'the events of the film themselves never feel as though they are the bombshells intended'|
Written and directed by Andrew Haigh, still a 'newbie' following 2011's successful Weekend, 45 Years is an astoundingly sharp pick for a relatively inexperienced film-maker. Focusing on an area of both storytelling and marketplace still sorely under-served by current offerings (all hail the grey pound!), Haigh tells the story of Geoff and Kate (Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling) on the eve of their forty-fifth wedding anniversary. Adapted from David Constantine's short story, the 'Drama' starts when Geoff receives a letter stating that the body of his first love has been found, frozen, after many years missing on a glacier in Switzerland.
Those inverted commas should reveal that this Drama fails to permeate the core of 45 Years. Though Haigh successfully uses the event to uncover fears around ageing and the way relationships develop without ever discussing the most important aspects of individual lives, the events of the film themselves never feel as though they are the bombshells intended. Haigh relies on small movements from his leads to communicate feelings (watch for Rampling holding out a hand to Courtenay as he reads the letter, before swiftly removing it, as he folds his arms across his chest), which is successful as far as it goes, but the film ends up feeling as though it is a candle without a match to light it. It is so subtle that intrigue remains hidden, right to the final shot.
Staffed by two titans of British acting, Courtenay and Rampling too are a mixed bag. The latter, more widely recognised than the former for this, is the highlight. Rampling engages with the subtlety required by Haigh much more than Courtenay, and her line delivery is rarely anything other than the clipped schoolteacher straightforwardness clearly intended (thanks to a clunky bit of opening exposition). Courtenay though regularly feels errant, clipped, uncomfortable and artificial, never more so than in an early scene when he says Kate's name and sounds like he is speaking to someone at the other end of the village.
The film's interest in age and relationships is something worth considering and the medium for doing so is a level of genius. Geoff's former lover, frozen in ice, has remained young and full of the ideals of Geoff's youth, whilst Geoff and Kate have grown old, surrounded by people who seem to constantly discuss children and babies. The characters cannot help looking back at what might have been and what is now. In a key scene, Kate finds a way to look into the past and cannot help but pause whenever a youthful face reveals itself.
But, following that scene, by the time Kate sits down to play a foreboding piano solo, just before the finale, it has become clear that we're never going to get into the Drama enough for anything of more tangible substance to reveal itself to us. You suspect that's part of Haigh's point, as he shows the internal destruction of internalising tragic youth that little bit too much. But for foreboding to be successful, there has to be something for us to forebode.