Friday, 04 September 2015


The superb performances make this possibly the best British film of the year

Written by Jason Solomons
Film-Jul17-JasonSolomons-176Two icons of British cinema, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, delve deep into the past in 45 Years, a beautiful film about ageing that nevertheless reminds us how the decisions of our youth never leave us.

It is both thriller and ghost story disguised as an enigmatic yet everyday domestic drama, a film of emotional highs and lows set against the physical flatness of the Norfolk Broads and the personal mountains of yesteryear.

Rampling’s Kate Mercer, a retired local schoolteacher, is nervous about her approaching party to celebrate 45 years of marriage to Courtenay’s Geoff. We see that both of them are still vital and healthy, if a little listless in their life together.

Amid troubles with the downstairs loo and arrangements for canapés, a letter arrives for Geoff, which shatters their English-village idyll. The letter comes from Switzerland and reveals that the body of Katya, Geoff’s first love, has been found frozen in ice in the glacier where she went missing while the pair were on a climbing holiday in 1962. The news shocks Geoff into reminiscence, while Kate pretends to be unperturbed, although with Rampling you always know when something is burning beneath her famously glacial surface.

As this couple start to disinter the past, fissures in their bourgeois comforts appear, yet they remain very British about it – almost polite – while simmering with feelings that they can’t, or won’t, quite express. Furtively, Geoff starts to smoke again.

The stars and the quiet repression may be British, but the style here feels classily European. Andrew Haigh is only on his third feature, but, dare I say it, his elegant construction, quietly fierce confidence and, of course, his use of Rampling bring to mind film-makers such as François Ozon, Eric Rohmer, Ingmar Bergman, Mike Leigh and Woody Allen. There aren’t many young British directors who merit such bold comparisons, nor do many deal with our middle classes with such acuity.

By the end, the pressure on us all is nearly too much. We’re haunted by 1960s classics playing on the radio and the refrain of The Platters’ Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. Just as the layers of the years have melted to reveal Katya in the ice, so the subtleties of this film build until our eyes moisten – I didn’t get smoke in my eyes, but they filled with tears of I don’t quite know what, or for whom. It’s just that I know Kate and Geoff – we all know them, just as we know Rampling and Courtenay. These people are us, our parents, our family friends.

When Courtenay’s Geoff first tries to explain how Katya would have frozen in the ice, he does a chilly sort of self-embrace that both we, the audience, and Kate pick up on, yet it remains subconscious for all. Meanwhile, Rampling is at her imperious best. In Haigh’s own words, ‘I see a hurricane of emotion under the surface… You are invited to observe, but also warned to keep your distance.’ Don’t miss 45 Years. It may well be the finest British film this year.

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