Happy together?

Kate Johnstone reviews 45 Years.

Could there possibly be anything new to learn about your partner after 45 years together? The answer, in Andrew Haigh’s latest film, is yes. Although after that length of time, it seems unlikely that it’s going to be anything good.

The film is set in the run-up to Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate’s (Charlotte Rampling) 45th wedding anniversary party, at a smart hotel in Norwich. Visiting the venue to discuss arrangements, sensible retired teacher Kate swiftly dismisses as preposterous the suggestion of a top table: it’s a party, not a facsimile of the actual event. The unconventional 45th anniversary date is explained by Geoff’s illness at the time of their 40th anniversary. Perhaps waiting for their 50th anniversary would be tempting fate?

As the date of the party draws nearer, Geoff and Kate’s relationship comes under an unexpected strain due to surprising information received from Switzerland, where Geoff spent time several years before he met Kate. As she points out, Switzerland is not that far away (it’s easy from Stansted). But that’s only travelling time. In all other respects, Switzerland and Norfolk could not be further apart. The point is made loud and clear as Kate marches across the dull, flat, drizzly landscape every morning with their dog, and the Swiss Alps metaphorically loom larger and larger.

This is Rampling’s film, and it is a wonderful performance. She inhabits Kate’s character, but at the same time there’s the baggage associated with any actor of Rampling’s longevity. In the late sixties she was beautiful, hedonistic Georgy Girl, a sophisticated ex-model and fluent French speaker. In contrast, Tom Courtenay was then firmly fixed as the epitome of rebellious, working class youth (Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Billy Liar). As Geoff, he recommences his smoking habit and liquid lunches, and we start to wonder at his rebellious streak. Lady and the Tramp are a romantic notion, but would they still be happy 45 years down the line?

This is not a film of sudden realisations or dramatic denouements, and it could never be accused of overstatement. Courtenay and Rampling are totally convincing as a long-standing couple (remarkably, they had never even met before making this film). Caught on the hop in a phone call from the hotel, Kate reels off some of their musical choices for the party. One is the Turtles’ ‘Happy Together’, a love song in a melancholic key, with lyrics about the future, not the past or present: ‘Imagine me and you, I do, I think about you day and night…’ By the end of the film, one is left to reflect on who, or what, Geoff and Kate imagined over 45 years ago, and what they imagine now.

- Reviewed by Kate Johnstone (University College London), Associate Editor (Reviews)

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