Building a long-term relationship is like renovating a house. You construct a space together, bringing your own furniture into a communal area that gradually encroaches upon – but never consumes – each person’s private domain. Maintenance of this communal space requires careful management of memories; positive ones are amplified and reinforced, while the murkier moments are allowed to atrophy, or reimagined as lessons – steps up to somewhere better.
Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years centres on a married couple (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) who’ve established a comfortable space together. But their house betrays relationship instabilities. There are no photos on their wall. Their gazebo outside is cluttered with old furniture and rusted appliances. When news arrives of the discovery of Courtenay’s first love’s body – thought lost in a crevasse in the Swiss mountains – a similar rift opens up in their relationship, toxic memories pouring in and polluting their shared life.
This isn’t a melodrama. There’s no shouting. Haigh’s composition is restrained; classical. But the lack of raised voices belies the deep chasm beneath these two people. “We’re going to get up. And then we’re going to start again,” Rampling tells Courtenay. But how do you reproduce something that took 45 years to build?
45 Years is currently screening at the BBC First British Film Festival.