By Richard von Busack
The film 45 Years is based on one of the stories in David Constantine’s book, Another Country, which takes its title from a famous quotation from Christopher Marlowe’s play, The Jew of Malta. Fending off a criminal charge of fornication, the villainous Barabas answers, “But that was in another country; and besides, the wench is dead.” Director Andrew Haigh has two of the finest actors alive starring in his often touching but stiff story of dread surrounding a 45th anniversary party.
Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate (Charlotte Rampling) are planning a public celebration of their marriage, but the Monday before the party brings startling news. The corpse of Katya, Geoff’s old love, has just been found in a Swiss ravine, in which she fell when Geoff and Katya were both climbing in the Alps in the 1970s. Moving from preoccupation to obsession, Geoff muses over Katya, and his silences and omissions torment his wife as the big event approaches.
While the material might be better off as theater, photographer Lol Crawley brings out painterly shots of the two actors and of the misty Norfolk countryside. What we’re seeing though, is two great actors banking their fires. Good news is still good news, no matter how long to arrive; it seems funny that Rampling, this magnificent actress of leonine carriage and hooded eyes, is finally being discovered by some film critics. Is she the kind of woman to be threatened by a 50-years-dead ghost? Courtenay, who could give you a King Lear you’d never forget, isn’t nearly as believable as a guy next door (note the way his voice rises to fill a room when he’s giving a toast to his wife). It’s only during a tipsy scene in which he’s complaining about a reunion at his workplace that he seems free at last of Haigh’s too-tight conception of old love.