This eerie drama is a haunting, troubled look at marriage and what it means to love someone over many years. It gives us a retired Norfolk couple, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay), who we meet in the days leading up to their forty-fifth anniversary party. It’s a contained piece, hysteria-free, but full of true emotion. It begins with the arrival of a letter at the pair's rural home: a body has been discovered. Geoff’s first girlfriend, Katya, who he knew before Kate, fell off an Alpine mountain 50 years ago while they were on holiday. Now she has been found, encased in ice. It’s a small earthquake in the couple’s lives, and the aftershocks rumble, often painfully, through the week to come.
They continue to prepare for the party. But questions bubble up. Resentment and fear surface. What did Katya mean to Geoff long after her death? Has he been honest with Kate? Can you be jealous of a dead woman? Writer-director Andrew Haigh, adapting a short story by David Constantine, casts the dark shadow of time and mortality over this restrained, thoughtful story. Ageing Geoff imagines Katya’s youth preserved for ever in death. This is a ghost story with no ghost. An infidelity tale with no mistress, no lover, no dropped trousers, no secret texts. Can you betray someone with just your thoughts and memories?
This is a triumph for Haigh, whose acclaimed second film 2011’s ‘Weekend’, was the story of a brief, fun romance between two young men. There’s much less sex here. Yet Haigh’s search for meaning in everyday, ordinary behaviour, underlined this time by the past and the future suddenly coming into sharp focus, remains the same. So does his sensitive, smart concern for exploring the meaning and limits of intimacy between two people. And his cast are superb: Rampling hides an ocean of sadness beneath surface calm, while Courtenay blusters along in a very male fashion, though he too is crumbling inside. It’s a film of small moments and tiny gestures that leaves a very, very big impression.