Culture Tip: 45 years
Not for the faint hearted, or the decades-long married, 45 Years is a starkly restrained portrait of a 45-year marriage, as the days frame the lead up to the anniversary of Geoff and Kate, retired and living in the Norfolk Broads. Written and directed by Andrew Haigh, it is played brilliantly by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, and shot with the same cool formal restraint their marriage conveys. Their relationship is as easy, familiar and routine as their life, punctuated by walks with the Alsatian, trips into town, and even a failed attempt at sex.
An unusually busy week for the special event collides with the past in the form of a letter for Geoff from authorities in the Swiss Alps, where the perfectly preserved body of his former partner has been found in a melting glacier after a terrible accident. Asked to identify the body as next of kin, Jeff is shaken by painful memories, not least because he is now “a decrepit old man”, while ‘his’ Katia has been suspended as she was, in her twenties.
“I can hardly be cross about something that happened before I existed”, Kate tries to be understanding and senstitive, but soon begins to feel a fissure opening in their relationship. The film conveys how easy it is in a long-term relationship to keep secrets, to leave things unsaid, to keep things comfortable and bury layer upon layer of deep feelings of loss, resentment and disappointment. As the past begins to seep into the present, Jeff takes late night trips to the loft to look at old photographs, which convey a world Geoff has never been able to reveal.
The viewer is left with the empty gestures, the first dance, the strains of the 45th anniversary playlist a comment on the distance opening up between them, the speeches and the tears.
For those in the earlier stages of marriage I recommend David Schnarch, Secrets of a Passionate Marriage, and Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity, as an antidote to keeping it under wraps.
Jacqueline Palmer is a therapist on welldoing.