Susan Granger’s review of “45 Years” (Sundance Selects)
Set in the rural Norfolk countryside, Andrew Heigh’s emotional drama revolves around a middle-class English couple who are preparing to celebrate their 45th anniversary when the arrival of a mysterious letter shakes the foundation of their seemingly idyllic marriage.
Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) Mercer are stunned when an official dispatch from Switzerland informs Geoff that the body of his former German girlfriend, Katya, has been found.
Back in 1962, when Geoff and Katya were hiking in the Alps, Katya fell into a fissure in a glacier. Since they were pretending to be married, Geoff was officially listed as her next of kin and, as such, has been asked to identify Katya’s recently recovered, perfectly preserved corpse.
After receiving the disturbing news, Geoff becomes increasingly preoccupied with memories of Katya and, when questioned, he confesses he would have married Katya had she lived.
Noting, “I can hardly be cross with something that happened before we existed, can I?” emotionally strained, increasingly jealous Kate, nevertheless, feels compelled to search in the attic for Alpine photographs of Katya, one of which reveals that she was pregnant at the time of her death.
Significantly, Kate and Geoff are childless, devoted only to each other and their Alsatian dog Max.
Adapting “In Another Country” from David Constantine’s “Under the Dam” short-story collection, writer-director Andrew Heigh once again explores the naturalistic complexities of intimacy, as he did in “Weekend” (2011), which he considers a thematic companion piece.
While several poignant songs, like The Platters’ “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” evoke nostalgic memories, there is no musical score.
Basically, this is an exquisite tour-de-force by two of the finest actors in British cinema: 68 year-old Charlotte Rampling (“Stardust Memories,” “The Verdict”) and 77 year-old Tom Courtenay (“Quartet,” “The Dresser”). Rampling has never received an Oscar nomination – and she certainly deserves one for this performance, as does Courtenay.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “45 Years” is a compassionate, elegant 8, subtly delineating a devastating drama.