45 Years is a great demonstration on how to evoke so many layers of emotion and inner turmoil with a fairly simple filmmaking approach.
What director Andrew Haigh does here which provides the film it’s gut wrenching sensation is that he writes these characters with so much depth and naturalism that the events that slowly unravel begin to make the film more and more despondent as it goes on.
Rampling is just extraordinary. Subtle in her expressions and exterior but inside the hurt is palpable. No showy antics, no histrionics – simply a masterclass in masking her grief. Haigh uses the bleak Norfolk countryside to great effect, placing her in the centre of surroundings that perfectly illustrate what she’s feeling — forlornness and heartache.
Courtenay is excellent as well, though not quite as affecting. But what he does brilliantly is convey the actions of an individual that can’t quite come to terms with this news and it sets off a chain reaction of resorting to bad old habits and outlandish behaviour.
The final scene however couldn’t have been crafted any better if they tried. Whilst directed with so much grace and acted wonderfully by Courtenay with his anniversary speech, it was Rampling who elevated it to devastating effect. The words may have been music to the ears for many, but for her it was just so bittersweet because she didn’t feel that same affection. She displays a multitude of emotions throughout; smiling, laughing, sorrow, melancholy. Her mind is constantly in a state of befuddlement.
What should be one of the greatest nights of her life is far from it. And then the dance, which honestly made me tear up. Not only for Ramplings acting and heartbreaking final shot, but the lyrics to the song pretty much summed up everything that was destroying her;
“When that lovely flame dies Smoke gets in your eyes”
Their marriage may live on, but it will now always be shrouded with her belief that her husband doesn’t hold the same love for her that he once had, and this woman from days gone by will always be present for the rest of their lives.
45 Years is a slow burning, intricately designed exploration of the underlying grief us humans undergo when in tough times. It’s both beautiful and harrowing, aided by incredible performances.