With nary a critical word to be found among the fawners in the film critics’ pantheon, 45 Years has gone on to receive a surfeit of undeserved approbation in such places as Metacritic, with an unbelievable ‘metascore’ of 94. My first reaction to this onslaught of film critic stupidity was simply to ask, “How can this be?”
45 Years may be infected with a simple case of being ‘too British’. Now don’t get me wrong—I love quite a number of British films, which often prove superior to their American counterparts. But when a film ends up being ‘too British’, it often suffers from glacial pacing and a rather dry demeanor which 45 Years obviously suffers from throughout.
But there are plenty of films featuring lugubrious plots with humorless characters that still remain compelling. What’s needed of course is a plot that goes somewhere, and characters that manage to avoid being pejoratively labeled as “sad sacks.” Unfortunately, 45 Years avoids none of this and more!
It’s all supposed to be about some kind of marital crisis that befalls an aging, childless couple by the name of Kate and Geoff Mercer who live in the flatlands of Norfolk, in eastern England. Kate and Geoff’s idyllic existence is suddenly shattered when Geoff receives a letter that his ex-girlfriend Katya’s body, lost in an Alpine hiking accident 50 years earlier, has been suddenly found perfectly preserved inside a glacier in the Swiss Alps.
Andrew Haigh, the writer-director here, apparently was quite enamored with this gimmick of an inciting incident which he conscripted from a short story entitled Another Country. Haigh’s idea is to show how Kate’s perspective on the marriage changes after new information comes to light regarding Geoff’s relationship with the ex-girlfriend.
Geoff remains what he’s been all along: a curmudgeon. He can’t understand why Kate should be upset over a relationship he was involved in years ago. The revelation that Katya took his surname bothers Kate but not Geoff, who merely takes to smoking cigarettes to assuage the anxiety he’s experiencing over Kate’s growing dissatisfaction with him. Oh yes, he’s a bit of a lefty too as it’s revealed that he once called Kate’s friend a “fascist,” during a political discussion that got out of hand.
As for Kate, one wonders why she should be upset over something that happened fifty years earlier. It’s mainly the principle of Geoff not being honest with her. But she appears to throw her principles out the window when she surreptitiously and underhandedly goes up to the attic and views some old slides of Katya, taken by Geoff right before the accident. There, (simmering with jealousy), she spies a close-up picture of Katya, visibly pregnant.
While all this is going on, the couple is getting ready for their 45th wedding anniversary. Kate simply has to put on a good face while the couple is finally heralded by all their friends at the actual banquet. Kate’s new perspective on her marriage is the ‘big’ revelation that we’re supposed to get excited about.
Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay can do little with the material foisted upon them and the viewer only perks up when one or another nostalgic tune from the 60s pops up intermittently on the film’s soundtrack.
In the end, the critics would like you to believe that 45 Years represents the second coming of Ingmar Bergman. Nothing could be further than the truth. If your protagonists are deadly dull to begin with, and your inciting incident leads to the feeblest of epiphanies, then please explain to me what the critics’ brouhaha is all about.