A Ghost Shakes the Foundation of a Couple’s Union in 45 Years

Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate (Charlotte Rampling) during a rare moment of relative tranquility
Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate (Charlotte Rampling) during a rare moment of relative tranquility

No one knows what goes on inside someone else's marriage. Friends, acquaintances and even casual observers may think they know, but there's a wall that keeps others out.

In 45 Years, even one-half of the marriage is in the dark. Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and her husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay) are on the verge of celebrating said milestone when Geoff receives a letter. Katya, a woman he dated seriously before he knew Kate, died in an accident — Katya fell into a crevasse in a glacier while she, Geoff and a guide were hiking — and because of the magic and horror of climate change, her body may be recovered, more than 50 years after it was lost.

Naturally, the letter sparks a change in the couple. Geoff becomes a man obsessed with his former lover, and Kate becomes obsessed with finding out more about Katya and the relationship she and Geoff shared. It's the kind of rabbit hole you don't want to, but probably must, go down.

To Kate's increasing dismay, there are photos, letters and memorabilia Geoff has saved over the years, and he begins sneaking into the attic at night to pore over everything. Then there's the matter of Geoff's behavior. His friends know he's acting strangely, and Kate knows why but has to play dumb. And Kate, because of pride (or perhaps because she and Geoff are English) outwardly has a stiff-upper-lip demeanor about the whole thing.

As the movie progresses, Kate is forced to deal with the unsettling questions about her husband and their marriage. It's tough to read much emotion from Rampling's face; she's always been a master of subtlety and her several types of grimace serve Kate's story well. Courtenay plays Geoff as a sort of doddering old fool who hides deeper thoughts beneath his decrepit facade.

45 Years offers a master class in understated acting, and director Andrew Haigh's script intentionally leaves lots of unanswered questions. It's the sort of movie worth returning to over and over, if you don't mind spending 95 minutes with two unlikeable people and the ins and outs of their union.

45 Years opens at Santikos Bijou Cinema Bistro Friday, February 5.

45 Years (R) 95 min
Written and directed by Andrew Haigh; feat. Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay and Geraldine James
Three Stars