It may take some considerable time for any of us to see more consummate performers than Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay acting together at the top of their form. So writer-director Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, the British competition entry at Berlin, is not to be missed.
Courtenay plays a curmudgeon who has lived with Rampling’s now ageing woman for almost fifty years, forever hinting that the death of a previous girlfriend in a climbing accident has effectively blighted his life.
Consequently Geoff and Kate are uncertainly happy together, with Kate making increasingly desperate efforts to discover what really happened so long ago. When she does find out, she extracts a promise from Geoff to commit himself totally to her relationship with him or leave.
That is all the story is about, and you might think it wispy and, in the end, a trifle sentimental. But not with these performers. Rampling, in particular, show how she can inhabit an awkward part entirely without obvious guile but with tremendous resource. Courtenay too can look as if he is not acting at all.
The result, thanks also to Haigh’s excellent screenplay, is a small movie with big things to say. The fact that 45 Years whispers its lessons rather than shouts is actually in its favour. It consistently seems to be telling the truth through its memorable performances.