Adapted by director Andrew Haigh from a short story by David Constantine, British art-house drama 45 Years exposes the flaws beneath the tranquil surface of a long marriage with searching insight and deep compassion.

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay’s retired couple Kate and Geoff have been plodding among the lower slopes of old age, amiably heading for the landmark of their 45th wedding anniversary, when long-buried memories suddenly come to the surface and reveal the unseen cracks in their relationship. The crisis is prompted by the arrival of an unexpected letter at their home in the Norfolk Broads, a week before their lavishly planned anniversary celebration. The Swiss authorities are contacting Geoff to inform him that a melting glacier has revealed the body of his German ex-girlfriend, Katya, who fell to her death in a crevasse in 1962 while on a walking holiday with Geoff.

There is nothing melodramatic about what follows, as the reminder of Geoff’s long-lost love awakens jealousy, resentment and disappointment in Kate, but the film’s restraint deepens the impact of a story that is quietly heartbreaking. The film’s symbolism (glacier and crevasse, warm kitchen, draughty attic, and so forth) is blatant but resonant; Rampling and Courtenay’s performances are subtler, conveying the roiling emotions and uncertainties of a couple that never expected to find themselves so close to the edge.

Certificate 15. Runtime 95 mins. Director Andew Haigh.

45 Years is in cinemas and on demand from Friday 28th August.