It’s rare that a movie is made about a couple in a successful marriage. The films that have done this are usually showing things in flashbacks when a character just lost their spouse and is grieving. It’s one of the reasons we all bawled our eyes out in the first five minutes of Up — and that was an animated movie.
When I see Hillary Clinton on TV I often wonder why she’s stayed with Bill Clinton for so long. My assumption is that it’s for political reasons.
I’m guessing most people look at older married couples and think they look so sweet. Why would we wonder about what ghosts they might have lurking in their closets?
Director Andrew Haigh went for a minimalist approach to show us a happily married older couple slowly unraveling. They’re planning a party to celebrate their 45th anniversary (a medical emergency kept them from this party five years earlier). The couple live in a Norfolk countryside. They’re played by British acting legends Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling. I remember first seeing her as a kid watching The Verdict on HBO, and remember an old girlfriend asking me about her when we went to see Swimming Pool in 2003. It’s a shame we don’t see more of her in American movies, but hey — she got her first Oscar nomination for this performance. Perhaps that will change.
Geoff Mercer (Courtenay) is reading a letter when Kate (Rampling) comes back from walking the dog. He’s shocked to find out an old love has died. She was found in the Swiss Alps frozen. Kate finds it odd that he’s asked if he wants to see the body or that her husband, who can’t even make the small walks with her, is considering going. She’s a bit shocked to also find out he’s named “next of kin.” He explains that they pretended to be married so they can stay at various places together. She’s not so sure that’s the truth. Whether or not it’s true, one thing does happen. She goes into a jealous spiral that is interesting to watch. That’s partly because of the understated performances.
One of the few things I liked in The Age of Adaline last year, was how Harrison Ford’s character is obviously infatuated with an old love and his current wife isn’t happy about it. This movie smartly underplayed those emotions. It helps when you have two terrific actors.
We are on Kate’s side as she snaps at her husband or gets the passive aggressive thing going. After all, he’s now rummaging around the attic looking for old photos of her in the middle of the night. When she goes up there and looks at slides on a screen when he isn’t home — it’s heartbreaking.
The movie had a few problems for me. Watching the slow pacing would’ve been fine if every scene was perfectly executed. A few weren’t. One that comes to mind was Kate angrily saying, “I don’t want you to say her name anymore!”
She goes on about how the music he’s listening to is different, too. It didn’t feel authentic and was poorly written. Also, with a movie on the slow side, it’s a bit like watching Another Year five years ago (Jim Broadbent/Lesley Manville). There were some interesting things going on with the older couples friends and family, but not enough to warrant sitting there and watching it all unfold.
There were some adorable scenes. One of them has him asking, while knowing his wife is upset, “I suppose a cuddle is out of the question.”
She moves over to his side of the bed as he wraps his arms around her.
In another scene, they’re reminiscing a bit before dancing to Stagger Lee blasting on the stereo.
The subtle looks Kate gives her husband are perfect. The problem is that the movie shouldn’t have been so vague about exactly what her husband’s relationship was with the dead woman. The audience is left thinking she really needs to see a psychiatrist for how badly this is effecting her. It also makes you start to dislike her, because the husband really didn’t do anything wrong. Yet just a little bit of tweaking from the script — perhaps a secret he didn’t share with her that was a bigger deal — would’ve made this a lot more provocative film. We might even sympathize with her more if she was watching as her husband seemed to be so devastated by hearing the news. He seems matter-of-fact about it, which should make her a lot less jealous than she is.
The cinematography from Lol Crawley is shot nicely, with a chilly vibe that fits the story well. We’re so used to seeing things coming out of England being period pieces. This was refreshing.
This film is strictly for the art house crowd, or people that want to see every movie nominated for Oscars.
It gets 2 1/2 stars out of 5.