In British director Andrew Haigh's startlingly intimate marital drama, "45 Years," veteran actors Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay play Kate and Geoff, a happily childless couple a week away from commemorating their 45th wedding anniversary with a lavish party among friends and family. But amid all the arrangements, Geoff receives a letter informing him that the body of his lost love, Katya, who disappeared nearly 50 years prior after a tragic accident during their vacation in the Swiss mountains, has been recovered from a glacier. The revelation sends their happy marriage tumbling headlong into crisis, upending the delicate balance they've maintained over four-and-a-half decades together.
Adapted from a short story by David Constantine, "45 Years" doesn't contain any supernatural elements, but it is a ghost story of sorts, about a marriage haunted by specters of the past. The resurrection of Katja, whom Geoff imagines has been preserved in ice, forever young, raises feelings of guilt and longing in him, while for Kate, she becomes symbolic of an alternate life in which she and Geoff were never together. "45 Years" sidesteps explosive emotional outbursts for something altogether subtler and more lingering. Rampling and Courtenay deliver a masterclass in acting as jealousy and unspoken thoughts bring chaos with them. Rampling (who earned a well-deserved Oscar nod) in particular delivers a largely internalized performance in which the tiniest of actions become hugely significant. Throughout, Haigh creates a sense of quiet tension, building to the quietly devastating final moments as he examines what it really means for a couple to have accumulated a lifetime of history together.