In view of all the superlatives that have already been aimed at this modest film in under just two weeks, I was a little nervous about it not coming up to the praise it's attracted. It was needless concern. This film really is something special.
Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are a couple living with their large dog in rural Norfolk, and coming up to their 45th wedding anniversary for which they've arranged a large celebration party in a local hall, they having some years previously had to cancel the intended party for their 40th due to illness.
Just a few days before this celebration, he receives a communication from Switzerland, telling him that the vanished body of an early girlfriend he had when they were in their twenties has been found, perfectly preserved in an icy crevasse. The reason why the Swiss authorities have contacted him was that the couple had, in order to get accommodation in that area, to pretend that they were married - and that he is now therefore assumed to be the young woman's next of kin. He tells his wife, having thought that he'd already told her about Katya, his deceased friend, before. But if his present wife had been told about her at all it was only in a casual off-hand kind of way which had made little impression at the time. After now being told that he is being regarded as the next of kin she is at first more curious about this former 'friend' and gradually becomes unsettled, wondering exactly how deep their relationship was - until she snaps at him and tells him that she can't bear to hear Katya's name mentioned again. Yet the thought of their relationship haunts and then obsesses her until she surreptitiously tries to find out for herself the details of how deeply he felt for this Katya.
It's essentially a two-actor piece for 95% of the time, the only other figure of any significance is her close friend played superbly by Geraldine James. (I did wonder if this screenplay could be adapted into a two-person stage play. I think it might work quite effectively).
It's the ageing couple at the heart of the story that carries the entire weight of the drama - and for both Rampling and Courtenay praise cannot be too high, he wordlessly bemoaning or expressly articulating his physical deterioration due to his advanced age, she reassuring and consoling him - until this sudden, unexpected news becomes an unwelcome, looming interloper between them. If anything, Charlotte Rampling is the true star of the film, not necessarily because Courtenay is not as good, but because his emotions, despite the predicament thrown up by this revelation, are plainer to understand, whereas Rampling's confusions are complex, not just wondering about the relationship that she didn't know about but trying to evince how much her husband had been holding back from telling her.
The film is written and directed by Andrew Haigh whose previous works include the also well-received 'Weekend' of 2011, depicting a gay relationship over two days - a film to which I see I gave a fairly unspectacular rating of '6', and wrote of as being "boring". But other critics generally thought it better than I had. However, there can be little doubt that Haigh here has made a truly well-crafted, intense and deeply affecting film. The film's final few seconds' shot is heart-rending. Surely BAFTA, and even Oscar, nominations beckon?
This is ordained to appear in my personal Top 5 of 2015's best......................8.
4 hours ago