45 Years is proof that with a good script and accomplished actors, you don’t need special effects, monsters or even a raised voice for a movie to be dramatic.
Kate (a sublimely good Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) are living comfortably in their twilight years in contemporary England and preparing to throw a 45th anniversary party for their family and friends when a letter arrives that threatens to shatter their lives.
Years before he ever knew Kate, Geoff had a girlfriend he was trekking around Europe with whom he lost in a hiking accident when she fell off a cliff into a glacier.
Ordinarily it would be ancient history to any couple and neither have thought or talked about it in years, but when he gets a letter saying that the ice has sufficiently melted for her body to be found, he finds himself unable to stop thinking about her and what might have been.
The movie itself, however, is all from Kate’s point of view. Tom is a stoic, old-world man who says little and emotes even less, and it’s left to a few brief, quiet conversations to figure out how they both feel about it and how – if at all – it might affect their relationship.
But as much as they both (in their own ways and together) try to let sleeping dogs lie, Kate can see the strain it’s putting on a marriage that’s had its share of ups and downs but never anything as deep as this.
Now, I used to word ‘shatter’ before, but there’s a few swear words, one or two words of argument and that’s it. Everything is conveyed through quiet moments, a slightly confused or worried expression or a gesture like letting go of a loved one’s hand too fast (Kate’s action in the final few frames – unnoticed by everyone – is a devastating moment).
The plot and dialogue mostly comprise Kate and Geoff’s everyday lives, with the letter and its ramifications hanging almost in the background, only peeking through and being referenced directly from time to time.
That the entire movie plays out in this way without ever resorting to a thrown plate or an impassioned declaration is testament to Rampling’s talent (Courtney is less present and the script calls on him to do far less).
Like many great European movies that don’t have the budgets to destroy cities with CGI, it’s all about inner turmoil, the world inside the heart crumbling, and it takes very talented actors working with a very good script to pull it off and keep you interested for this long. Despite a few lags, 45 Years has both.