Charlotte Rampling, one of the great actresses of her generation, never has been nominated for an Oscar. Hopefully, that is about to change with her brilliant turn in the new British marital drama 45 Years. She already has won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival along with Best Actress from the Los Angeles and Boston Film Critics. Rampling was named Best Actress at the European Film Awards on Saturday, and today was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award. Are you listening, Academy?
As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), Rampling plays Kate, a happily married woman about to celebrate her 45th anniversary with husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay, equally fine) with a big party at the end of the week. In director Andrew Haigh’s fine, piercing screenplay (from a short story ), we see their day-to-day life as the childless couple live out their sunset years together. But then a seemingly innocent revelation comes to light through a letter that arrives letting Geoff know that the body of Katya, his girlfriend before Kate, has been found. She had been frozen after falling into a glacier while they were walking in 1962. He says that because they were pretending to be married at the time, he was listed as next of kin, thus the letter all these years later. This development shakes Kate to her core as she never knew anything about this in all of their 45 years. It leads her on a mission of discovery that will have a profound effect on her, him and their marriage as startling new revelations occur.
Through it all, Rampling delivers a subtle yet stunning performance as a woman who suddenly must question everything she thought she knew about her life and marriage after 4 1/2 decades. Her eyes tell the story, and it is the little moments — gestures, attitude — that makes her work so memorable. Courtenay is equally fine , even if the thrust of this story is Rampling’s Kate, as he seems not to know what to do once the letter appears and keeps the truth close to the vest. He also won a Silver Bear for Best Actor in Berlin, and the two veteran stars are completely believable as this couple whose longtime union hits a crisis.
Haigh explored a different kind of relationship in his first film, the acclaimed Weekend, but he shows an increased maturity as a very promising filmmaker with this exploration of a man and a woman who suddenly seem like strangers to each other in an odd way. There are no villains in this piece, only two recognizable human beings whose ordered and normal life is thrown into chaos by the simple appearance of a letter.
45 Years is one of the year’s best. Sundance Selects opens it December 23 in limited platform run.
Do you plan to see 45 Years? Let us know what you think.