When I moved from Toorak to Richmond, I celebrated my liberation by putting pin-ups on the fridge – I disdained the fridge magnets of Little Johnnie. One pin-up was of a lady –a word I use advisedly – of my age in a demure black dress under a light-weight light grey cashmere twinset. I had just seen her in a film where she had bested a busty French flibbertigibbet – to use a term applied to those sexy young French actresses by a lady friend of mine – who, as it happens, is also English. I am of course talking of Charlotte Rampling. She has been in movies for a while but not as long as Tom Courtenay. He did Billy Liar in 1963 and Doctor Zhivago in 1965. She did The Damned in 1969 and The Night Porter in 1973. (And you need a stiff drink before and after each of those movies.)
I went to see two great actors in 45 Years, but I went with trepidation because I thought it might end badly – which is tricky when you are of the same age as those on screen. I was therefore hugely relieved when it ended well – as I thought it had to from the moment when the heroine stepped up to the piano and rippled off the most beautiful music ever written. I just wondered what the point of the whole thing was. Imagine my disappointment when I found I had missed the point, and that the movie, some say, did not end well!
Just before their forty-fifth wedding anniversary, news of the fate of a previous love reaches Geoff (Courtenay) and this starts to discompose his wife Kate (Rampling). The question why? is never answered. OK, our pre-revolution generation was different – naïve, fumbling, priggish, and neurotic about sex – but even in the dark ages some people slept and lived together before marriage, and pregnancy was more of a risk for us fumblers. But would we get shitty if we found out after 45 years’ marriage that out that we were not the first? Not unless we are rolled gold neurotics.
Perhaps that is Kate’s problem. Looking back, I should have been en garde from her first lines. She tells a neighbour that he should call her Kate, because she is no longer a schoolteacher, and then she says that she is ‘over the moon’ – they were the words, I think – because the neighbours have had twins. That means either Kate or the scriptwriter has serious issues. We then find that she is a retired teacher in a childless marriage – I did not notice it in the film, but the internet suggests there is no doubt about his potency – and her husband is softer and weaker than her. She has not lost the capacity to scold, especially about smoking, or to order him about, either in travel abroad, or in attending a social engagement set up by a crashing bore. When he goes to this function to appease her, and he is physically ill as a result, she looks calmly at him in her rear vision mirror, like a butterfly collector observing a catch in the net. But she has used his absence to search through his private papers, and to get evidence, as she sees it, against him, and then not tell him – she just goes cold at a function that might have made any bloke sick. Just how cold or bitter is this woman?
I did not pick up what she saw as the evidence against him – I was insulating myself from the Pinteresque acid drip – or the cold shoulder at the end. I only saw it on the internet. In my need to avoid pain, I apparently just missed the point.
Now, I have no doubt that the features I have referred to were not uppermost in the mind of the director. But nor was his apparent message uppermost in mine. And don’t give me any of that bullshit about ending a play or a movie with a question mark. When was the last time you saw Euripides, Shakespeare, Ibsen or Chekhov end a show with a bloody question? When Nora walks out on that drip of a husband, she slams the bloody door. Bang! ‘Playtime is over.’ (Peugeot made an ad out of it.) When Hedda walks out on her drip of a husband, and the sleazy lover boy, there is an even bigger bang! ‘Good God – but people don’t do such things!’
No bangs here – only a whimper.