Director and writer Andrew Haigh talks to Katrina Conaglen about his new film 45 Years, which received its UK premiere at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival
45 Years spends a week in the life of Norfolk couple Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) in the lead up to their 45th wedding anniversary. When news comes of the discovery of the long-dead, frozen body of Geoff’s lost love Katya on a mountainside in Switzerland, the seemingly contented couple find fissures in their relationship they never realised were there.
To examine the world of a septuagenarian couple living in quiet idyll in the countryside may at first seem like something of a departure for Haigh, whose critically lauded 2011 film Weekend storied the genesis of a 20-something gay couple’s relationship, set against the vibrant clubbing scene of Nottingham.
But despite the superficial differences, 45 Years “felt like a companion piece”, says Haigh, another examination of “how we define ourselves through our relationships, and how important those relationships can be, and how we can create meaning through our relationships.”
Watch our interview with Andrew Haigh:
Of the film’s many pleasures, one that is particularly striking is the vitality and warmth of the couple’s relationship – these are no old fogies with one foot in the grave.
“Its not about their death,” says Haigh. “It’s still about choices, rather than death, and I think that most films about people that age are about death. One of them would die, in most films. Death is in the film, but it’s the death of a young person a long time ago, not their own coming death.”
What the film is preoccupied with, then, is the state of their relationship, and Haigh believes it is up to the audience to decide how healthy that is.
“I have my own personal opinions, and they do actually change (depending on what kind of mood I’m in!) but for the audience, their decision on what would happen in that relationship (to me) will totally reflect them as people. If you’re the kind of person who thinks you can make these things work, then maybe you’ll think they’ll get together. If you’re the kind of person to keep attacking the world, then you’ll probably think that Kate’s going to leave him.”
As proof that Haigh’s prodigious talent is attracting equally impressive collaborators, 45 Years boasts towering performances from cinematic royalty Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courteney. However, their formidable performance didn’t alter his method of directing:
“It was intimidating to start with, just the notion of it [working with Courteney and Rampling] I thought, ‘oh god! Can I work in the same way with them that I can with the guys from Weekend or the guys from the show’ (Haigh produces and writes Looking, the HBO show about a group of gay friends in San Francisco), because that’s a method that I can do.
“And then you meet them and realise, well of course you can. They may have got a wealth of experience, and worked with some really fascinating directors, and that’s quite intimidating, but then I just had to do it the same way I’ve always done it. And they are just the people behind the actors, so in the end it was a really pleasurable experience.”
45 Years is on general release in the UK and on Curzon on demand from August. Check out the WOW247 review.