“So full of history you see. Like a good marriage.”
I first heard of 45 Years about six months ago, when star Tom Courtenay was on the always great film show with Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5 Live. The interview was fantastic and both Kermode and Mayo gushed over the movie. But I couldn’t get myself excited about it. It sounded a little to English and reserved for me. But in the months since, 45 Years ended up on heaps of year end, best of lists, and even scored an Oscar nom for Courtenay’s costar, Charlotte Rampling. I finally accepted the fact, that I needed to see 45 Years.
Geoff (Courtenay) and Kate (Ramplling) are planning a party for their 45th wedding anniversary. Spending their golden years in their nice country cottage, with pleasant walks to the local village, it seems like this childless couple has retirement all figured out. But party planning takes a back seat in their priorities when Geoff receives a letter.
50 years ago, while climbing a mountain in Switzerland, Geoff’s then girlfriend, Katya, fell to her death, never to be seen again. 50 years and some global warming later, Katya’s remains have become visible, perfectly preserved in a glacier. So now, the aged Geoff, and his ever loyal wife Kate, find their entire marriage being questioned by the arrival of a dead woman, who has remained perfectly in her 20s for half a century.
As sensational as the plot point of the ageless remains of Katya might seem, she is a pure McGuffin, there only to spark this crisis in the lives of Geoff and Kate. It doesn’t matter if they’ll be able to free her body from the ice, it doesn’t matter what Geoff might have to gain by being her next of kin. What matters, is how this formerly steadfast relationship handles this new upheaval.
Despite her best efforts to avoid it, Kate can’t help feeling a little jealous about her husband’s former relationship. But 45 Years makes sure Kate never comes off as paranoid, or needy, or insecure. It makes sure that Geoff gives her reasons to feel her jealousy. It makes sure to establish her as a strong, vibrant woman of a certain age, in contrast to Geoff’s almost doddering, decrepancy.
In a lot of ways, 45 Years is exactly the reserved, English movie I thought it would be. It’s also a movie that I found totally engaging and riveting. I don’t know if I’m just getting older, or if this movie was just really well written and acted. Maybe it’s a bit of both. Whatever it is, 45 Years managed to make the everyday relationship issues of two old fogies more entertaining and relatablely emotional than I would have ever expected it could be.