Married for 45 years, without children, Kate and Geoff Mercer are preparing to celebrate their wedding anniversary with a party, when Geoff receives a letter that shakes both of them. The letter, from Switzerland, lets him know that a body has been found: that of Katya, his first love, who died falling into a fissure in a glacier when the couple were on a walking holiday in 1962. Though Kate continues to prepare for the party, she becomes increasingly disturbed by Geoff’s preoccupation with Katya and reminiscences on his lost youth.
45 Years presents a new take on relationships, old age, forgiveness and jealousy, from writer/ director Andrew Haigh. It also stars two legends of British cinema, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay in the roles of the central couple. Haigh’s screenplay was adapted from David Constantine’s short story In Another Country. The film was recently the unanimous choice of the jury at the Edinburgh International Film Festival for its top prize, the Michael Powell award for best British feature film.
While the director’s previous feature, 2001’s highly-acclaimed Weekend, depicted a barely-begun relationship that may or may not survive the titular two-day span, his latest work takes the opposite narrative tack in examining love and longevity. The concerns of 45 Years, however, are similar. How does trust establish itself, and love express itself? How close can we get to another, and how much should we expect to always operate alone?
45 Years notably treats its ageing characters as people still in the thick of life and still vulnerable to its emotional slings and arrows. The casting of two erstwhile icons of 1960s youth culture in Rampling and Courtenay, unavoidably brings with it our images of their younger selves, while the characters they play similarly deal with the lingering past. Haigh notes on the casting: “I always hoped that their histories would be felt as the hopefulness of the past, the potential of our younger selves and knowing these actors as younger people helped enormously. There is a certain melancholy to that and I’m very interested in that as a feeling. I often think that the melancholy we feel about the past is more about the failures and disappointments of the present than the past itself.”
The theme is echoed in the 60s pop music that seems to be stalking Kate – I Only Want To Be With You; Young Girl; Happy Together – contrasting the wide-eyed fantasies of youth with the testing realities of making love last. 45 Years looks in-depth at a phase of life often minimised, caricatured or excluded altogether from film narratives, and at a side of love – retrospective jealousy – as hard to talk about as it is to endure.
45 years, directed by Andrew Haigh, UK release 28 August.
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