*** (out of five)
Andrew Haigh’s third feature follows his second, Weekend (2011) in depicting an intimate portrait of two people in a relationship. In Weekend, that relationship was just beginning; here, it’s deep – forty-five years deep. That’s the anniversary looming at the end of the week for Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtney) and Kate’s planning a big party with all their friends. But at the beginning of the week, Geoff receives a letter (in the post!) that upsets the marriage’s careful balance, and causes Kate to question… well, pretty much everything.
Like in Weekend, Haigh favours a super-realist style, rarely using music, keeping his camera calm and mainly in close-up on Kate, whose story this most definitely is (there are scenes where, although talking, Geoff isn’t actually seen on camera). How much you feel pulled into her dilemma relies in large part on how much you can take away from Rampling’s silent, thoughtful gaze, as she goes about her week, increasingly distressed, but dealing with it in the way of the mature, tasteful English woman.
I started losing patience with it. After the umpteenth lingering shot of Rampling’s silent face, I was thinking, “Come on, cut already.” I found Weekend similarly indulgent. Rampling is extremely good in the role (and nominated for an Oscar) but her silent visage is just required to bear too much dramatic weight; the film is based on a short story, and I can imagine it working best in that format.
Courtney is also excellent, and the setting – the foggy, canal-strewn countryside of Norfolk, with occasional forays into the town of Norwich – is interesting and used well (if, like Rampling’s face, a little too much). The film definitely has intriguing things to say about all sorts of big things: ageing, marriage, being British; indeed, ageing in a British marriage. The couple live in an old-fashioned way that will shock the digi-generation, spending their nights listening to classical music with books and a digestif. I think at least one of them would have a computer – and the internet, which would alter the story significantly – but their world, and the film, is closed, chilly, and rooted in the past.
Opens Feb 18 in Australia.