An ultimately realist portrayal of a long-lived love that finds itself at an inopportune moment of burgeoning celebration of 45 years of marriage with a not abnormal but perennially emotionally, as well as physically complex, complication.
Scenic and sensitively shot, the film exposes and portrays intimate issues rarely mentioned in a closed and reserved society of middle English countryside. Mainly a tale of love in its later, middle-/old-age throes – a theme softly touched upon with the director’s gently humorous insinuations and reminders – the audience witnesses also the odd political nod at once expanding a personal singular story to one of at least national significance.
Themes such as time, choice and theory are subtly and often unwittingly brought to life by Tom Courtenay; Charlotte Rampling silently and strongly bears the effects of a love before her time and thus out of her control, or understanding, between Courtenay and a previous, young girlfriend.
While we feel like we constantly teeter on the bring of the turning sour of what first seems a wholesome marriage in all ageing forms, tension rises and whilst whispered conversations of jealousies, insecurities and unpredictable fates take place under the covers at night, contrasts of character, situation and world outlook suddenly highlight themselves. Courtenay – in a romantic vision of the past – describes his girl’s and his jaunts up Swiss mountains as ‘brave’ in the backdrop of war at home. Rampling, however, cuttingly but perhaps wisely rather calls it ‘a man chasing a girl who wanted to be chased.’
We sense that Rampling is always one step ahead of Courtenay and this pivotal difference between man and woman – particularly in the field of romantic relationships – is symbolised by her and her best friend, the latter often acting as voice for the more brooding and surprisingly cynical Rampling.
In the final scene of the long-awaited 45th wedding anniversary party we are faced with another dichotomy between the inner and outer personality. Rampling’s suffering and loneliness is visceral when drowning in hoards of people, only able to be penetrated by the best friend’s animated entrance into her distant reveries, unlocking a woman confused by herself but adored by and a wonder to all around her.
Whilst the final shot of Rampling crumbling – she only evidently looking into the camera and not at Courtenay in moments of drops of the corners of her otherwise deftly fake smile – serves as an ambiguous yet ultimately optimistic final jab of emotion solely between her and the audience. She is now left – alone – to continue and make her story grow; she, not the first deified Katya (her name noticeably similar to Kate, with a dose more danger, youth and exoticism), but the rock who has always put up with Courtenay’s drunkenness, bouts of zealous passion and self-admitted ‘nonsense’, loved and wept over, not the first girl, but the one the world has thrown together with Courtenay for mutual survival. Reasons for which have been, and always will be, alternately exposed and again hidden from themselves.
The film can be watched as a study into the tumultuous ‘difficult things’ (as Kate ponders) that make two people come together, and stay together, while Time elusively heals and hurts.