45 Years is a compelling film, laying bare the emotional complexities that lie beneath the surface of any relationship. Here, Geoff and Kate’s plans to celebrate their forty-fifth wedding anniversary are suddenly derailed by the arrival of a letter, informing Geoff that the body of his former girlfriend has been found in Switzerland. Perfectly preserved in the glacier that killed her, Katya is transformed into an idealised Sleeping Beauty of a woman: an embodiment of youth and the heady rush of first love. As Geoff retreats into the memories of what he has lost, Kate is left bereft, struggling to cope with what she knows is an irrational jealousy – because what’s the point in being jealous of a ghost?
It’s subtly done. Tom Courtenay portrays Geoff as vulnerable and conflicted. His love for Katya is as well-preserved as her body, but he loves Kate too, and doesn’t want to hurt her with this visit from the past. “It feels like it happened to another person,” he tells her, and it’s clearly true. But Kate, played with wonderful nuance by Charlotte Rampling, is thrown by the revelation that Geoff would have married Katya – if she hadn’t died – and this threatens to undermine their whole relationship. “Was she blonde?” she asks, hopefully. “No,” Geoff tells her, “She was dark.” “Like me.” The fear of being second best, of being the consolation prize, erodes Kate’s confidence in everything that they have built.
And it’s heartbreaking. Two people, who have enjoyed and endured so much together, who have shared their lives for almost half a century, whose caring is so ingrained it’s become routine, can still be unsettled and rendered insecure. It’s heartbreaking – and it’s beautiful. The whole film feels somehow very real.
The Norfolk Broads make a convincing backdrop, and the cluttered house is a nice reminder of the baggage the pair have accumulated throughout the time they’ve shared. The photographs Geoff has hidden in the attic have always been there for the finding, but it’s only now that they have come to light.
And it’s an absolute delight to see a film about old people that isn’t about impending death or comic ineptitude. This is a love story – with sex and tears and tenderness. And it’s just as affecting as any young romance.
It’s well worth watching, if you get the chance.