Free Press Journal

Movie Review: 45 Years – A Meditation on Marriage


Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells

Director:Andrew  Haigh
Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be…that’s how it should be,ideally. Sometimes,that’s not how the cookie crumbles. Love, as the Bard said, is a marriage of true minds and this meditation on marriage makes that very,very clear. Based on David Constantine’s short story, In Another Country,” helmer Haigh’s adaptation makes it clear that marriage, a good marriage is “full of history.” An unspoken,tragic history that Kate (Charlotte Rampling,amazing) Mercer finds out barely a week before her 45th wedding anniversary when her hubby  Geoff (Tom Courtenay,testy)  receives a letter that rakes up the past when he was a young backpacker in Europe. His German is rusty but adequate enough to learn that the body of his former girlfriend Katya has been found preserved in a Swiss glacier. She had fallen to her death and Geoff who was listed as next of kin is requested to come to Switzerland and identify the body. Asked if Katya had no family,Geoff tells Kate they had pretended to be married to make travel easier.
Little by little, he reveals more details -like the wooden wedding ring to keep up the pretence – and Kate is wounded. Geoff who has had a bypass reverts to a bad habit – smoking.  Kate begins to smoke too. Then, Geoff locks himself nights into the attic where he’d preserved tokens of his time with Katya. When Kate decides to explore the attic, she finds an old photo album and a home movie of a pregnant Katya. The sight distresses Kate  who is childless, and you wonder who took that decision. “She has been a ghostly presence all these years, determining choices, small things, and possibly, the big ones too..” Kate tells Geoff in a heartwrenching scene. Grief and guilt can be  factored into the fissures that develop into what had seemed to be a happy marriage welded by a rocksolid relationship. To know, truly know, that beautiful word from Scripture, requires unflinching honesty and trust and if relationships founder, it is, possibly because of the lack thereof.
They say first love can never be forgotten but Geoff at 70 plus still chooses to wallow in memories of a past that doesn’t involve his wife which leads her to wonder if their marriage had really been grounded in honesty and truth. Even her name, Kate is just the same as the dead girl, you wonder if Geoff wanted a continual reminder of his true love.The song played at their 45th anniversary party is Smoke gets in your eyes, the very song that was played at their wedding. It is a sad pointer to Geoff’s memories of his past love and their long,now threatened marriage. Kudos to helmer Haigh for a delicately nuanced portrait of marriage.