45 Years is a brilliant and beautiful film. Kate and Geoff Mercer (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) are a long-married couple, suddenly forced to come to terms with the fact that Geoff had been engaged before they met. Both performances are amazing, and Rampling has been nominated for an Oscar. [Note: Rampling's recent comments about diversity on screen have been much criticized. On this score she is living in the world as it should be rather than the world as it is. Here I will focus on her acting and not her politics.]
The shock of the film comes early. We learn that Geoff's former lover Katya's body, missing after a hiking accident 50 years ago, has been found in Switzerland. Geoff tells Kate that he must have told her about Katya, but he almost certainly did not. Geoff and Kate did not know each other when the incident happened, there was nothing for him to hide. Nonetheless a secret kept is now a secret exposed.
I must admit that I still don't get what all the fuss is about, even though I love 45 Years. Pi Wen knew on our first date that I had been married and divorced before. Maintaining the pretense that life did not exist prior to meeting the person you spend your life with makes no sense to me. But apparently it's a thing people do.
Kate first plays it cool, but as the week continues she's looking surreptitiously for old pictures in the attic. Geoff claims that it was ever so long ago, but he takes the bus to the town travel agent in order to inquire a flight to Switzerland (which he does not take). Meanwhile their 45th anniversary party, to be attended by a large swath of friends and family, looms that weekend.
It's a tense, emotionally exhausting week. Kate and Geoff make it through, but are not unchanged. The glory of the film lies in particular moments; an impromptu living room dance, a sharp glance after an unwelcome remark. All of these are quotidian experiences freighted with meaning, of the kind that we experience everyday while demanding that the screen gives us ACTION. The action in 45 Years lies in the head and the heart, sweeping us along in its empathetic embrace.