Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"45 Years" and Nothing to Wear

One of the most downbeat films I've seen in quite a while is "45 Years", a British melodrama directed by Andrew Haigh, starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. Charlotte has been nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Kate Mercer, a 60-something retired teacher married (nearly) 45 years to a retired factory manager, Geoff.

This is not to say "45 Years" wasn't good. It was, and Charlotte Rampling's performance is riveting. She's in almost every scene. The movie is uncomfortable to watch at times and seems to end on a question mark. Nonetheless "45 Years" is outstanding, serious film making— just not a barrel of laughs. But we're here to talk fashion, and her clothes are so nondescript it's a wonder costume design gets a credit.

Charlotte's character is not easy to read but is perfectly defined by the non-fashion she wears. She has an enviably slim figure and is strikingly handsome even without a lick of makeup, but her choices are boring. We suspect she is unmoved by fashion and would rather read a book. You sense this as she aimlessly flips through a rack of clothing in a boutique, possibly looking for a dress for her upcoming 45th anniversary party. What she turns up in is so beige and bland her equally unfashionable husband becomes a peacock in his tux.

Kate's clothes are so ordinary they're not worth noting, yet I found myself wondering what made her choose a white parka or how long she'd had that classic leather shoulder bag. This is where the costume designer (Suzie Harman in this film) has a job to do. Anything colorful or trendy would not have been true to her character. By exaggerating how unmemorable her clothes are we know what Kate is saying even when she speaks little.

Charlotte Rampling is one of the most interesting actresses around. The word that comes to mind is "honest", the phrase— "true to herself". She's kept a low profile for years, turning out superior work only rarely because that's as often as she wished to work. Lately we've seen more of her, all the better.

Early in her career she was celebrated as much for her beauty as her acting. Here she is 45 years ago and wearing nothing. 


  1. Great post~ I have always enjoyed this actress!

  2. Thank you for giving credit to the costume designer for not designing attention-getting costumes. Even the members of "The Academy" tend to ignore good design unless it's flashy or set in a historical era. Costuming for the characters' psychological state is a real art.

    1. My guess is her job was more difficult and a lot less fun than costuming an adaption of a Jane Austen novel.