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Director Andrew Haigh's local links led to 45 Years being shot in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 14:58 14 January 2016 | UPDATED: 15:30 14 January 2016

Charlotte Rampling and director Andrew Haigh on the set of 45 Years.

Charlotte Rampling and director Andrew Haigh on the set of 45 Years.

Archant

45 Years is a new departure for former Norwich Golden Triangle resident Andrew Haigh whose previous feature films were about young gay men.

Director Andrew Haigh at Cinema City for the regional premiere of his film 45 Years, which was filmed in Norfolk. Picture: Denise BradleyDirector Andrew Haigh at Cinema City for the regional premiere of his film 45 Years, which was filmed in Norfolk. Picture: Denise Bradley

His debut, Greek Pete (2009), described a year in the life of a London rent boy. His second, Weekend (2011), was a melancholy film about a passion that ambushes two men over a single weekend achieved cult status.

It won Haigh the London Critics’ Circle award for breakthrough British film-maker and he made it on to the New York Times list of 20 international directors to watch (the only UK director on the list).

He now lives in California where he made two seasons of acclaimed HBO drama Looking.

But before he left for the US, he co-wrote and directed 45 Years, choosing to shoot the film in rural Norfolk, around the Broads, and in Norwich.

Crews prepare for filming of '45 Years' at House Cafe St Benedicts, Norwich starring Charlotte Rampling. Photo: Fran Stone/iwitness24Crews prepare for filming of '45 Years' at House Cafe St Benedicts, Norwich starring Charlotte Rampling. Photo: Fran Stone/iwitness24

Why did you choose to film 45 Years in Norfolk?

Norwich and the surrounding countryside were perfect for the story. There is a barren beauty to the open landscape that reflected the emotions within the story perfectly. I was also living in Norwich at the time, because my partner was doing an MA in creative writing at UEA, so I knew the area well. I feel like it’s still an undiscovered part of the country, which is just fine by me.

How was it filming in and around Norwich? Didn’t people recognise Tom Courtney and Charlotte Rampling?

I desperately wanted [Charlotte] to do the film but the one thing that did worry me was will people believe Charlotte Rampling is the kind of woman who would walk around a department store in Norwich buying clothes? And the weird thing is that once she becomes the character, which she does so beautifully, you believe it.

It’s weird because a lot of the scenes we shot in Norwich with real people, not with extras and she would walk around the city and nobody even looked at her. We had the camera hidden in a van to film some of the scenes, so people wouldn’t see us; and no one knew it was Charlotte Rampling, no one turned an eye.

Tom Courtney gives a very quiet, subtle performance...

There is a vulnerability to Tom and to his performance. The last thing I wanted for this film was an angry man raging at the world; I’ve seen that on screen too many times before. I wanted something more complex, something more sensitive. Here is a character struggling with his sense of self, not the villain of the piece. Hopefully there are no villains, just people trying to figure things out.

The Norfolk setting is a change from the source material, which is set in North Wales. The Norfolk landscape becomes something of a metaphor for the couple’s marriage...

I love the idea that his past with Katya was set in the mountains of Switzerland and with Kate he’s settled in the flattest part of the UK. There’s something about the horizons in Norfolk, they’re quite isolating, those landscapes, because you just see forever, and I think that’s quite a scary prospect sometimes. It just made sense to me emotionally.

The look of the film is very real, quite bleak with lots of mist on the Norfolk Broads and no beautiful sunsets. Was that deliberate?

I want my films to feel very true to the characters in the moment. If you live somewhere and you’ve lived there a very long time, it doesn’t mean much to you anymore. You no longer wake up in the morning and think ‘gosh what a beautiful view’. You just walk around the countryside and you look at your feet.

I think in films too often they overdo the beauty and over comes the story. For me its more about that the characters are existing and the background becomes less important.

Despite getting international acclaim, the film is very British in its sensibility...

I do think there is something culturally and politically conservative about the British which encourages many to bury their feelings for the sake of keeping the status quo. This is certainly the case with the English middles classes. Saying that, I think it’s every hard for anyone to be truly open about their feelings because for most of the time they make no sense to us.

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