It might be grounded in kitchen-sink reality in many ways—here is a small English town, here are its unglamorous citizens, here are the everyday habits of two people who have been married a long time. But my favorite film of 2015 has an undercurrent of the fairy tale about it, as though a touch of dark magic were animating the crisis at the movie’s heart.
This is Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years—now you know how long the couple has been married—and maybe it’s more ghost story than fairy tale.
[Originally published in slightly different form in Movietone News 58-59, August 1978]
Asked to name the absolute quintessence of the late-1960s film hero, whom would you choose? Benjamin Braddock? Antoine Doinel? Cool Hand Luke? Rooster Cogburn? Butch Cassidy or the Sundance Kid? Frank Bullitt? Wyatt or Billy from Easy Rider? My vote would go to none of these, but to Gerald Arthur Otley, the eponymous hero (played so superlatively well by Tom Courtenay) of Dick Clement’s dazzling first feature. Otley has all the wariness, all the coward’s cunning, all the what’s-in-it-for-me cynicism of the man in the 1969 street; but he also has the quick wit of the born survivor, the good luck of the sainted schlemiel who always somehow stumbles through, the street kid’s celerity in taking advantage of a sudden change in situation and the resilience of the eternally befuddled, but also eternally cocky, “little man” who gets by as much because of his smallness as his manhood. Otley is a thief, a rogue, a liar, a scrounger, a seducer of other men’s wives, and he’s no good at any of these things, and not much good at anything much else either, not even at being the layabout he so naturally is. But he has no malice in him and he loves life, even as it baffles and overlooks him.