Director Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years moves at an overly sedate pace as it introduces spouses Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate (Charlotte Rampling), stuck in the rote rhythms of their long marriage. It’s the week before the celebration of their 45th wedding anniversary when Geoff receives a letter that will throw off their routine: the body of his past love, Katya, found frozen in ice (and time) in a glacier in northern Europe. Upon reading this news, Geoff refers to his ex as “my Katya,” a small signal that Kate’s world, as she knows it, has been upset.
As her husband grows a beard and goes back to smoking, becoming increasingly obsessed with climate change and glaciers, Kate realizes there is much still she doesn’t know about him. We learn small bits of her own past as she tries to get him to open up about this rarely-spoken-of time before their marriage. Courtenay’s Geoff becomes nigh insufferable in his Katya monomania — although as the story opens up through the viewpoints of friends, it appears there’s always been an element of insufferability about him.
One wonders while watching Rampling’s contained performance: has Kate put up with her husband for so long because she didn’t want to be alone? The breakdown between the couple transpires in increments, as Kate’s anger coldly accumulates.
The way the story slowly creeps along makes it a challenge for the viewer — this viewer, at least — to connect or engage. Moments of true dramatic tension are rare, although they do occur. As Kate explores the attic and finds souvenirs from Geoff’s travels, her stunned feeling is palpable.
After hearing so much hype for Rampling in 45 Years, I expected more from the actress and the film. 45 Years is a perfectly fine picture — a story of the marriage between these two characters and the specters of their youth — but inspires nothing close to hyperbolic excitement.
45 Years opens at the Regal Arbor and Violet Crown Cinema in Austin on Friday, Jan. 29.