As with so many tragedies, 45 Years is all about the ending, and it does not disappoint.

On the week of his 45th wedding anniversary, Geoff (Tom Courtenay) is informed that the body of his former lover has been discovered, a part of his life that Geoff has barely discussed with his partner, Kate (Charlotte Rampling). Unearthing any number of issues and things left unsaid, the tension builds over the course of a week in the lead up to the couple’s night of celebration.

While both Courtenay and Rampling are excellent, this is Rampling’s film. She conveys the strongest sense of emotion and empathy with the smallest gesture or look, and masterfully, sometimes by virtue of no action or movement at all. The film is slow in parts, with the two main characters often seen ruminating in silence, while frequent distant shots create an unnecessary disconnect from the narrative. Nevertheless, 45 Years unfolds like a thriller, with Kate and the audience treated to clues, a surprise twist halfway through, and an affecting conclusion.

Cleverly, the filmmakers have placed very little of the focus on the former partner herself, acknowledging that 45 Years is not about her or even her relationship with Geoff, but rather that between Geoff and Kate, and the slow realisations that the couple, most significantly Kate, have had to reach over so many years. As with most thrillers, the ending packs a punch. Audiences will try to guess what happens, but the masterstroke of 45 Years is that before you realise it, the finale has already happened, and it hits you like a tonne of bricks. A moving film with an outstanding performance from Rampling, 45 Years demonstrates just how stirring human drama can be.

Glen Falkenstein on FilmInk