All the things a seemingly happy couple have and haven’t shared with each other after nearly half a century of marriage come to a head in a single week in filmmaker Andrew Haigh’s elegant, affecting drama. It begins when strange news comes to Geoff (Tom Courtenay) days before he and Kate (Charlotte Rampling) are set to celebrate their 45th anniversary: The body of a girlfriend killed more than 50 years ago in a Swiss hiking accident has been found almost perfectly preserved in an Alpine glacier, sending his mind reeling backwards in time and setting off a series of hairline fractures in his relationship with Kate.
Haigh, who also made 2011’s lovely minor-key gay romance Weekend, adapted 45 Years from a short story called “In Another Country,” and it has the deliberate stillness of a narrative that doesn’t rush to fill every moment with action or explanations. That sounds like something critics like to say about a certain kind of art-house movie when what they really mean is that nothing happens. But the opposite is actually true; checked emotions roil beneath the surface of nearly every scene and in the unspoken answers to all the questions—why the pair never had children, whether they really know each other at all—that neither wants to ask. Though other incidental characters come and go, Years is essentially a duet (or a trio, considering the constant specter of the long-dead girlfriend). Courtenay is a gruff and gratifyingly knotty presence, but in the end it’s Rampling’s movie. In a quiet, beautifully calibrated performance completely stripped of actressy tricks, she’s a revelation. A–