The brief sparks of romance spotted throughout 45 Years are a touching reminder that stagnation does not necessarily mean monotony. Some are happy in routine, the similarity of the days a convenient and comforting reminder that neither ill health nor tragedy has struck them. Not yet, anyway. Life comes in waves, some take solace in the calmed sea, and those are the moments director Andrew Haigh looks to pick apart here. What if those grey clouds you’d been ignoring as a passing drizzle were looking to capsize the boat? Instead of tranquillity and smooth sailing within the twilight years, our characters instead find themselves facing down a riotous storm looking to put sudden strain on a relationship nearing its 45th anniversary.
With hard-working actors Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling right at the heart of 45 Years, it’s no surprise that its drama works so well. Veterans of the industry bringing a natural talent to the screen. Reliable, but often changing the style of their craft. Rampling in particular, the reserved fear that her husband, Geoff (Courtenay) is up to no good after receiving a letter detailing the death of a long-lost lover, are sustainable and plant seeds of doubt relatively early into the film. There’s an element of regret and yearning found within both characters. Courtenay plays up the more obvious prospects of reminiscent fear, thinking of what could have been had he chosen someone else to share his life with. For Rampling though, she encapsulates a fear of never being priority. Of not being loved unconditionally, her contrition shining through as a waste of a near half-century.
Haigh uses a mature, understated approach to his characters. They blossom wildly, an accepted understanding between cast and crew is met. Slight variations to framing and lighting, but nothing that sparks enough commentary to detract from the steady core of our leading performances. A solid director by all accounts, a very British-feeling film, those who have inundated themselves with the stalwarts of the BFI and Artificial Eye will be all too familiar with this style of narrative. Curating classics for its soundtrack, presenting an emotional desecration caused by a domino effect, but with no clear ending in sight for characters Haigh and his cast bring such stellar light to.
To take the metaphor of the sea once more, 45 Years shows a boat at the end of its reliability. The cracks becoming clearer, salty lies and sickening gusts of wind wail on the relationship. Glimmers of optimism are shown, light breaks through the looming thunder and ashen clouds, but 45 Years hints that it may be too late. To throw oneself overboard and cling to personal buoyancy may be the way out for our protagonists. Who knows, it feels too late to take the plunge into the icy depths, and to do so when the boat could hold is perhaps a risk not worth assessing.