Directed by Andrew Haigh
45 Years takes place over the course of a week, but for Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) it feels like an eternity. That’s because a woman from husband Geoff’s (Tom Courtenay) past will resurface, even if only in spirit, raising questions about the foundation of their marriage, 45 years earlier.
There is no physical conflict, no “other woman” coming into the fold like McDreamy’s wife at the end of season 1 of Grey’s Anatomy. On the surface everything is fine, and for much of the film it’s the surface that Kate is concerned about, hoping to hide from friends and family the recent discord in their marriage, one Geoff may not even perceive.
A week before a party celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary, Geoff gets word that authorities have uncovered the frozen body of a woman he once knew. It’s only as the story goes on that we learn how they were connected and even that they were married, a revelation that shakes Kate to her core.
How this woman died and if Geoff had any hand in it, we don’t know. Going into the movie you might think there will be some dark reveal about Geoff’s own past, maybe a more tempered version of what happens in The Girl on the Train, but that’s not what 45 Years is about.
It doesn’t matter who this other woman was, how she died or even what Geoff’s role (if any) was. All that matters is what Kate believes, and once she allows room for any kind of uncertainty, she is doomed.
Kate and Geoff have a strange rapport at the start of the film. They have an understandable comfort with each other considering all the time they’ve been married, but there is a distance between them as well. Kate seems sharp as ever, curious about the world and actively engaging in morning walks and quick trips into town. Geoff, on the other hand, seems much more muted, like a less sinister version of Robert Durst. There is something off about him from the start, though this could be explained by any number of factors. Once we learn about the woman from his past and the things he has hidden from Kate (such as he had been married to the deceased woman) we may begin to see the ways in which Geoff is aloof as being much more indicative of a darkness brooding inside him.
The film is firmly rooted in Kate’s point of view. As far as I can remember we follow her for every shot of the film. The only times we see Geoff are when he’s with her, and thus we only see one side of him. With Kate we spend so much time with her in isolation that we can quickly see the changes in behavior with Geoff, even if it’s just a glance.
There is a darkness to this movie that suggests it could head in any number of directions, some more sensational than you’d expect for a movie this quiet and intimate. The story is broken up by title cards announcing which day of the week it is, charting our progress forward like we’re headed to some kind of dramatic conclusion. Each silent title seems to come at a particularly heated moment, like a sudden death knell but one only the audience can hear.
The story does build to the anniversary party where we know Kate will have a tough time remaining composed considering what all she has learned about her husband. As he gives a heartfelt speech, Kate will remain so composed that we wonder if she has moved past the thoughts that have plagued her. It’s not until the end that we see her briefly let go and visibly convey the turmoil inside.
What’s most striking about this is the effort she puts into keeping it altogether for the sake of keeping up what she may now see as a charade. Earlier in the film she tells Geoff directly that it matters to her to make sure their friends don’t catch a whiff of this disconnect between them, and by the end she is utterly alone. She doesn’t feel the same connection to her husband, but he believes all has been smoothed over. It’s worse, surely, to recognize a force of antagonism invisible to others than one that clearly presents itself to you.
Up Next: Mother! (2017), Midnight Run (1988), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)