In 45 Years, the new film from Weekend director Matthew Haigh, we see an ostensibly loving relationship thrown suddenly into doubt by the arrival of a letter. The letter informs Geoff (Tom Courtenay) that the body of his past love Katya, who died on a walking trip before he met his current wife Kate (Charlotte Rampling), has been found in the Swiss mountains.
Kate initially responds to the news in a logical way: how can she be angry (or jealous, even) about something that happened before she was on the scene? But is there more to it than that? Geoff seems to be affected by the news a little too deeply, and the run-up to their 45th wedding anniversary, which is to be celebrated with a big party, begins to take on a sense of foreboding. The film considers the ideas of regret and missed opportunities, but it is happy to be ambiguous in these considerations. Has the letter caused a fissure in their relationship, or simply revealed the rickety foundations it has always stood on? The final scenes are painfully unyielding, and contain enough emotional curveballs to leave us frustrated in the most satisfying way.
Rampling and Courtenay are very good, conveying a mixture of affection and disaffection, though with the exception of one scene near the end, the film is not reliant on grandiose displays of emotion. 45 Years plays out in small moments that are purposefully symbolic and suggestive, such as when Kate raises her hand to the closed loft door, swirling her fingers to feel the movement of the air. There are also subtle hints in the dialogue, for example when Kate bemoans the ability of humans to forget the things that make them happy. This results in one of the film’s most clearly metaphorical scenes, in which Kate performs a beautiful melody on the piano – only it is pockmarked with mistakes and the creaks of the stool underneath her. The message is clear, but no less effective for it. Indeed, music plays a key role: all of it is diagetic and has some relevance for the characters, whether happy or sad.
The film builds quietly to its powerful conclusion, subtly play ing with our expectations. There are one or two moments where the script is a little too forthright, but this is well-acted double-header directed with poise and confidence by Haigh.