In director Andrew Haigh's last film, 2011's closely observed Weekend, a young couple spends three days getting to know each other body and soul. 45 Years, his equally assured follow-up, spends a week with another couple, but the differences are as striking as the similarities. For one thing, Kate (Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) met in the 1960s when Courtenay, the actor, was the frustrated working-class man of British film and Rampling was his opposite number: a cool, sexually confident beauty. If their characters had anything in common, it was a low tolerance for bourgeois bullshit.
Courtenay's final move in 1962's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner remains the ultimate middle-finger to a society that would sort citizens according to their birth. 45 Years has little to do with class, but Haigh is a savvy filmmaker, and glimmers of his actors' past shine through their perfectly aligned performances. With a few strokes, he depicts a comfortable country marriage between retired professionals that develops fault lines when a revelation about Geoff's past comes to light. To him, it's nothing to make a fuss about, just the final piece in a puzzle started years before. But to her, it's everything.
Haigh avoids big scenes and bold gestures as Kate and Geoff simply go about their lives. But with each day, more details emerge, leading up to an anniversary party where Rampling and Courtenay prove why they're among Britain's finest contributions to world cinema.
Now I must say a word about the controversial statements Rampling made recently about how the protests against the lack of people of color in the 2016 Oscar nominations were "racist to white people."
Rampling's filmography speaks for itself: It's bold, adventurous, and at times downright weird. There's only one Zardoz, and she starred in it opposite Sean Connery and the world's most amazing slingshot diaper. In Nagisa Oshima's Max, Mon Amour, she was paired with a fucking chimp. If a director she respects asks her to do something, no matter how wacky, she'll do it. And she'll go all the damn way with it.
But she isn't a director herself. She's a 69-year-old British actress who was known for her looks before she was known for her talent, so she has some experience when it comes to being judged for the way you appear to be rather than for who you are and what you can do. All of that is to say that her comments about race and black actors are ignorant, offensive, and mind-numbingly cruel.
In 45 Years, she plays a sexually active senior citizen, something seen on screen all too rarely, and a reminder that she's a minority, too: an older woman in Hollywood. Fortunately, she's doing better than most, so why would she deny other minorities the same opportunity? To say it's because they're "not good enough" implies that she doesn't get out much. Does she really believe that her fellow Brit David Oyelowo didn't deserve an Oscar nomination for Selma? (I firmly believe he should've won, but the Academy felt otherwise.)
This isn't just about Will Smith in Concussion or Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation, and if she thinks it is, she's welcome to raid my DVD collection for other films featuring black actors and directors who never received the Oscar recognition they deserved. But she did. Be grateful, white lady. And do better.