FILM REVIEW: 45 Years and Q&A with Charlotte Rampling, Andrew Haigh and Tom Courtenay

WORTH A LOOK?: ****

WHERE: BFI

WHEN: 20/8 opens 28/8

Writer/director Andrew Haigh (Greek Pete, Weekend, Looking) tells us the BFI is his favourite cinema and that he used to work here as an usher.

His new film 45 Years, out 28/8 and starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, is not gay-themed as all his previous work has been and instead concentrates on the build-up to the 45th anniversary of the previously mentioned couple.

Haigh’s screenplay was based on a short story titled In Another Country by David Constantine and Courtenay describes it here as ‘the best bit of writing I’ve ever done’. He’s not being overly generous: the moment he refers to is when Courtenay remembers the last sounds of a former girlfriend.

They had been walking in the mountains in 1962, his girlfriend metres ahead flirting with their guide, when Courtenay’s character hears her laugh (which angers him) and then a scream as she falls to her death. The film takes place over 45 years later as party anniversary preparations are in full swing and Courtenay’s character hears from the Swiss authorities that the body of his former girlfriend has been found.

If this idea of something uncovered after being frozen perfectly in time is familiar, it is because it was also the starting point for Sky’s Fortitude, also the subject of a BFI Q&A this time in January.

45 Years differs to Fortitude in so many other ways. The drama here is played out between the central couple only. Haigh’s brilliant Looking was criticised predominantly by the gay community for lacking in action and certainly 45 Years is naturalistic, taking place in daily segments the week before the party.

Rampling and Courtenay won best actress and actor at the Berlin Film Festival for this and it’s not hard to see why. They joke at the Q&A that they’d only met once briefly before shooting yet critics have remarked on how believable they are as a couple that has been together quite so long. ‘Well we stayed together in the same bed and breakfast during shooting with adjoining rooms,’ remembers Rampling.

Courtenay adds: ‘I’ve worked a lot in the theatre and I was just thrilled to have such beautiful things to say. I was haunted by the thing.’

Talk turns to the dog the couple share who wasn’t quite the bundle of joy (apart from one memorable scene) he appears on screen. ‘Like a lot of Hollywood stars he was good looking but awful,’ says Courtenay.

It’s tempting to reveal the outcome of the scene in which the previously mentioned dog warns Rampling’s character about going up into the attic where Courtenay has been sorting through memories of her predecessor but that would be to spoil the film.

There are many reasons to see 45 Years but what is most brilliant about it is that it is a fresh take on circumstances which could scupper a successful relationship in which no-one in particular is to blame. Not a lot happening? Well, we may not see Courtenay up that mountain but we have a sense of love flatlining on the Norfolk Broads portrayed by two actors at the peak of their game. Utterly believable and difficult to forget.

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