The mysteries of marriage

There are only 10 credited actors in 45 Years, and only two of them – Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay – are really of any consequence. That’s by design.

Rampling, who earned an Oscar nomination (her first) as Best Actress, and Courtenay play – with effortless ease – Kate and Geoff Mercer, whose 45 th anniversary party is scheduled in a week’s time.

The couple’s quiet, sedate life in the country is upended when they receive a phone call that the body of Geoff’s long-ago girlfriend, who fell into a crevice during a hiking trip in Switzerland in 1962, has been discovered – perfectly preserved after more than 50 years.

Kate and Geoff briefly discuss the matter, but that’s hardly the end of it. Kate discovers old photos from that trip hidden away in the attic, and suspicion and doubt begin to gnaw away at her. Might Geoff have been happier with the late, lamented Katya? Might Geoff have perhaps been in some way responsible for her death?

As befits their characters’ relationship, much of their emotions are internalized, conveyed in glances or subtle gestures. Whatever secrets exist between Kate and Geoff have long been forgotten (or so it seems), or may very well be best forgotten. The inclusion of many ‘60s standards on the soundtrack is not so much nostalgic as a vaguely eerie reminder of the passage of time.

Remarkably, Rampling and Courtenay, these venerable titans, had never even met before making this film, which is written and directed with subtle insight by Andrew Haigh. 45 Years is a master class in acting. Rampling, whose Oscar nomination is likely as much for her 50-year screen career as her performance here, and Courtenay are everything in the film and everything to the film. The story is structured in such a way that it could work on stage, it could work on television, and it certainly works on the big screen.

45 Years opens Friday !