45 years (2015)

This Golden Bear Nominee and Winner of two Silver Bears at the Berlinale 2015 is a poignant drama that delves deep into the complexities of long-term relationships, the passage of time, and the ghosts of the past.

3/9/20245 min read

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay in '45 Years'
Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay in '45 Years'

English, 95 mins, 2015

Director: Andrew Haigh

Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells, David Sibley

Awards: Won Best Actor & Best Actress, and Nominated for Golden Bear, Berlin International Film Festival, 2015; Nominated for Best Actress, Academy Awards, 2016; Nominated for Outstanding British Film, BAFTA, 2016; Nominated in 6 categories at British Independent Film Awards; Won, Best Actress, Boston Society of Film Critics, 2016; Won Best European Actress and Nominated for Best Actor and Screenwriter, European Film Awards, 2015; Won British/ Irish Film of The Year, Best Actor and Actress of the Year and Nominated for Best Film of the Year and Best Director, London Films Critics’ Circle

Set against the tranquil backdrop of the English countryside, the film invites audiences into the lives of Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay), a retired couple on the cusp of celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary. Yet, beneath the surface of their seemingly idyllic marriage lies a reservoir of unresolved emotions and buried secret, which come to the fore with the unexpected revelation of Geoff's past.

Right in the initial sequence Geoff receives a letter, in the morning, from authorities written in German that his earlier girlfriend Katya’s body is visible due to melting glacier. Katya and Geoff had hiked in Swiss Alps in 1962, some five decades ago, during which she fell in a deep crevice. The body in those days was never searched and found due to inaccessibility. Kate knows about Katya and hence doesn’t read much into the silence that Geoff descends into. As Kate and Geoff's anniversary party approaches, the discovery of Geoff's former lover's perfectly preserved body serves as a catalyst for a series of revelations that force the couple to confront the ghosts of their past.

Geoff tells Kate that authorities have chosen to inform him because they thought the two, Geoff and Kate, to be married as they were staying together and he is ‘next-of-the-kin’. Kate asks him were they married to which Geoff replies in negative and says that in those days majority of people would rent their homes only to married couples so out of ease they posed as a couple. Slowly, without their realizing, Katya has crept into their lives without any physical presence. Geoff starts smoking again after many years and one day gets up in the middle of the night and climbs up the attic to go through the past articles he has kept there. When Kate asks him what he doing there, he shares a picture of Katya reluctantly. Kate retreats and lets him be. At night Kate asks him would he have married Katya had she not died and both would have reached Italy as they planned. He replies in positive which unnerves Kate a bit. She too is rattled and takes to smoking too.

Next day, when Geoff is out for a reunion lunch, for which his close friend George (David Sibley ) has worked a lot, she climbs up the attic and explores the things kept by George. She comes across a suitcase containing old diary, a kind of scrapbook, preserving Geoff and Katya’s travel details of those days. She finds a screen hung and resorts to watching slides kept in the projector. She discovers through the photos that Katya was pregnant at that time. This disturbs her emotionally and even though she remains calm, the discovery has cast an unexplained emotional spell on her. She has gone to pick up Geoff after the luncheon. She is unusually quiet and Geoff blabbers off about what had gone through during the lunch meet and how he suffered throughout the event.

Kate visits the venue for the party and to sort out other details she goes to the town. On visiting a travel agent in the market she learns that Geoff had enquired with them about going to Switzerland. She thinks Geoff is taking it too far and confronts him when he comes back. She doesn’t tell him about what she saw in attic but says that it seems Katya’s presence had dominated all their decisions in the past and Geoff is not able to live a fulfilling life with Kate. Geoff resents this and argues that there is no such thing. But he promises that they will start their life afresh from next day as Kate wants without relating it to past.

Next day, Geoff gets up early in the morning before her and serves her bed tea. He also informs her that he will make scrambled eggs for the breakfast. They both also take a morning walk at a bird watching site, a ritual that they had not done for many years now. In the evening, they go to their 45th anniversary party at a historic hall which is attended by many of their acquaintances. As expected by the ladies, Geoff breaks down in the middle of his thanksgiving speech professing his love for Kate. As the ‘first dance’ in announced, George informs audience that the couple will dance on the same song, ‘Smoke gets in your eyes’, on that they had danced during their wedding, 45 years back. He dance starts and both dance with other guests too participating later but Kate looks forlorn in that melee of crowd.

Throughout the film, there is a palpable sense of tension and unease, as Kate and Geoff grapple with the realization that their marriage may not be as solid as they once believed. Andrew Haigh, director, expertly ratchets up the emotional stakes, building to a climactic confrontation that is as devastating as it is cathartic. Haigh's direction is understated, allowing the narrative to unfold at its own pace, drawing viewers into the intimate world of Kate and Geoff. Yet, amidst the turmoil, there are moments of quiet beauty and poignancy, as Kate and Geoff are forced to confront fleeting nature of love. The film's cinematography, characterized by sweeping shots of the Norfolk countryside and intimate close-ups of the characters, serves to underscore the emotional weight of the story, infusing each frame with a sense of longing and melancholy.

But the crown goes to the powerhouse performances of Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, who imbue their characters with a depth and complexity that is truly mesmerizing. Rampling, in particular, delivers a tour-de-force performance as Kate, a woman grappling with the sudden upheaval of her long-standing marriage. With just a glance or a subtle shift in expression, Rampling conveys a wealth of emotion, capturing Kate's inner turmoil and quiet resilience with astonishing clarity. Courtenay, meanwhile, brings a raw vulnerability to the role of Geoff, portraying a man haunted by his past and struggling to come to terms with the consequences of his actions.

About the director, Andrew Haigh

Born in March, 1973 in Harrogate, England Andrew grew up in Croydon, a bustling commercial town in South London.

Andrew worked as an assistant editor for the films ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Black Hawk Down’ before he made his first short film, ‘Oil’ as writer director. He directed his first full length feature film, ’Greek Pete’ in 2009 which revolves around the theme of male prostitution. The film premiered at ‘London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival’ which is now rechristened as ‘London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival’. His second feature came in 2011, titled ‘Weekend’ which received much acclaim and awards at various Lesbian and Gay film fests around the world. ‘Weekend’ features two men who get into a sexual relationship during a weekend after which one of them is planning to leave the country.

Present film ’45 Years’ was premiered at Berlin International Film Festival in 2015 and was nominated for top prize, ‘The Golden Bear’. The two lead actors won Silver Bear (Best performances in acting) and the film went on to win many awards and nominations as mentioned above.

Haigh also worked for television where he occasionally wrote and directed episodes of HBO series ‘Looking’ (between 2014- 2016), based on a group of gay men in San Francisco. Haigh continues to make films, mostly on gay and bisexual themes.