On paper, the storyline of 45 Years might seem slight, even insignificant. It’s a credit to writer-director Andrew Haigh and his brilliant leading actors that it doesn’t play that way…not at all. The focus is on an older married couple who are content living in Norfolk, England, settled in their ways and about to observe a milestone anniversary.
Then he (Tom Courtenay) receives an unexpected letter that dredges up an incident involving someone from his distant past. He is dismissive of it, at least on the surface, but as the import of this news sinks in, she (Charlotte Rampling) begins to ruminate on how it affects their entire relationship.
Much of the film plays out on Rampling’s face. This is screen acting of the highest order; the tiniest nuance of expression carries enormous weight, as we imagine what she is thinking. With each passing day her world becomes more fraught, as the letter (and other revelations) chip away at her seemingly solid existence.
Haigh adapted the short story by David Constantine and maintains a delicate touch as he guides his supremely talented stars through this material. A wrong turn or a heavy-handed moment could have set the film off-course, but Haigh, Courtenay and Rampling make their subtle work seem effortless.
It’s comforting to see that Charlotte Rampling’s performance is being widely recognized, even though the film isn’t a major studio release. She deserves every honor coming her way.