Four screen legends star in these two moving films on SBS World Movies and at SBS On Demand.
By
Dann Lennard

13 Jan 2022 - 10:47 AM  UPDATED 13 Jan 2022 - 10:55 AM

How strong is a marriage? How far can a person’s love for and trust in their partner be questioned, tested and stretched before it reaches breaking point?

Those are the questions posed in two films recently added to SBS World Movies and SBS On Demand.

Featuring powerhouse performances from four screen legends – Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland in The Leisure Seeker (2017) and Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay in 45 Years (2015) – they look at couples in their twilight years struggling to cope with the frailty and ill-health that comes with older age, along with simmering resentments stemming from decades of slights, secrets and lies.

The Leisure Seeker

The French-Italian tragicomedy The Leisure Seeker – director Paolo Virzì’s first full English-language feature – focuses on an elderly married couple. John Spencer (Sutherland) is a retired English professor with Alzheimer’s disease while wife Ella (Mirren) has terminal cancer.

Not telling anyone their plans, the couple take their 1975 Winnebago Indian, nicknamed ‘The Leisure Seeker’, on a road trip from their home in Boston, Massachusetts to Florida to visit Ernest Hemingway’s historic home. Meanwhile, their worried grown-up children, Will (Christian McKay) and Jane (Janel Moloney), frantically try to locate their wayward parents.

Along the way, the Spencers have numerous encounters – some humorous, some less so – with a wide variety of folk including an arrogant cop, a bunch of Donald Trump supporters at a small-town rally, two wannabe highway bandits and an assortment of waiters who John cheerfully corners to discuss Hemingway. There is also a shocking revelation about a past indiscretion that threatens to derail their journey.

Sutherland is tremendous as John, enjoying brief flashes of lucidity before the dementia descends upon him once more. Some of his increasingly erratic behaviour is played for laughs, but it’s tinged with deep sorrow as viewers witness a witty, urbane man disintegrating before their eyes.

But the movie belongs to Mirren as Ella – rocking a hideous brown wig and speaking in a beguiling Southern accent – who knows she’s in a race against time to enjoy one last glorious adventure with John, who’s becoming less like her husband every day.

“It’s so nice when you forget to be forgetful,” Ella laments in an early scene. “Too bad it ends so quickly.”

Her emotions jump erratically from love to fear to frustration to anger towards him as he returns her gaze with bewilderment.

“Who are you?” she snaps at him at one point. “My John is a young teacher. He’s charming, very handsome. Educated. I want him back. You stole him from me and I want you to give him back!”

Mirren admits the primary reason she agreed to appear in The Leisure Seeker – which is based on Michael Zadoorian’s 2009 novel of the same name – was the opportunity to work again with Sutherland. They last appeared on screen together in 1990’s Bethune: The Making Of A Hero.

It certainly wasn’t the script… at first.

“I said to my agent, ‘I do not want any films about Alzheimer’s or anyone dying of anything,’” Mirren explains in a radio interview. “And then this script arrives, which has got them both in it. But it was such a beautiful script. It was so sweet and funny, and it’s a love story. It’s what happens after ‘They lived happily ever after.’”

The Leisure Seeker premieres on at 8.30pm, Sunday 16 January on SBS World Movies. The film is also streaming at SBS On Demand.

45 Years

The past is a different issue in 45 Years, a slow-burning English-language drama about retirees Kate and Geoff Mercer (Rampling and Courtenay).

They are making final preparations for their 45th wedding anniversary celebration when Geoff receives a shocking letter informing him about the discovery of the body of his former girlfriend Katya, who died in a hiking accident in the Swiss Alps in the early 1960s. The news reignites old feelings that jeopardise the celebrations as he contemplates whether he should travel to Switzerland to see the body.

'45 Years' Director Andrew Haigh Wants to See the Drama Unfold
An interview with writer/director Andrew Haigh about his acclaimed 2015 drama '45 Years', which earned Charlotte Rampling an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Kate, who started dating Geoff after Katya’s death, grows paranoid as she learns more about this other woman. She wonders how much of an influence her husband’s first love has had on the couple’s relationship over the years.

“It’s like she’s been standing in the corner of the room all this time behind my back,” she hisses at Geoff. “And it’s tainted everything.”

The award-winning movie is held together by the subtle performances of its leads, particularly Rampling, who won the Best Actress Oscar. The camera regularly lingers on her expressive face as she slowly comes to the tortured realisation that she was perhaps never more to Geoff than a second-best replacement for Katya.

“Nothing will ever be the same again, and that’s the tragedy to me,” writer/director Andrew Haigh tells The Guardian. “Something has come up from the past and questioned everything about the relationship, and it’s left her stranded.”

As 45 Years and The Leisure Seeker reveal, love and marriage are complicated matters, no matter people’s ages. 

45 Years is now streaming at SBS On Demand.

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