Set in the English coastal town of Seaford, Grace (Annette Bening with a slightly wobbly British accent) and Edward (Bill Nighy) share a comfortable yet unsatisfactory life. Grace spends her days reciting poetry (which she is collecting for an anthology), Edward is more serious, working as a teacher with a penchant for correcting Wikipedia entries. When Edward urges their son Jamie (The Crown’s Josh O’Connor) to come home from the city, it soon becomes clear something is not right between his parents and their 30-year-old marriage. Edward suddenly announces that he’s leaving Grace for a younger woman, a mother of one of his problem pupils.
There is a strong Tennessee Williams influence to this William Nicholson (Gladiator and Unbroken) script. The couple are both ambling through their later years, trying to hold on to any passion they may have had. Grace implores Edward as he shows the faintest of interest in their relationship, her tactic too aggressive and needy.
Hope Gap is a slow and stuffy film that often feels like a filmed play. It revolves around people talking and walking in various places, offering a more nuanced take on marriage drama. Unlike Marriage Story, it’s a mature look at what happens when an split comes out of the blue. Inspired by the divorce of Nicholson’s parents, the topic of divorce is dealt with sensitively for both parties. Hope Gap struggles by just how realistic and nuanced the script is. It’s bad enough living through all the nuances heartbreak calls, let alone watch it drawn between two strangers.
The script is a rather dreary one, likely to bring back bad memories for anyone who has taken part in a breakup (whether it’s their own, or someone else’s). Neither lead characters are particularly likeable—yes realistic, but not a couple you would want to spend 90 minutes with. Grace is argumentative and rude, stubborn and selfish whilst Edward is dull and gets caught up in schedules and incorrect internet pages. Grace talks in lengthy poetry quotes that make it hard for audiences to attach themselves to her. They both seem to have the worst traits of an ageing couple, with none of the endearing ones. By the end of the first act you’ll be begging for Edward to get on with it and leave his wife, just to put you out of the second-hand embarrassment of watching them.
Jamie is struggling with his own relationship problems, which are ignored in favour of exploring his mother’s pain. He is confronted by his two friends, who are so firmly relegated to ‘supporting’ status their subplot might as well have been edited out. A better film may have delved into why his parent’s relationship has caused him to struggle with his own relationships. As fantastic of an actor O’Connor is, his character has no spark and serves no purpose to the plot.
The film just gets more and more emotionally brutal as it goes on. After Edward leaves, Grace adopts a dog and names it after him. Whenever Jamie starts coming home regularly, he finds her sat on the stairs waiting for the real Edward to come home. She sees the ghost of him walking around their house long after he’s moved out. The writing is never too showy and overly emotional, whilst Grace is all monologues and thrown dishes, Edward is the walking epitome of repressed emotions. It’s so intimate, that it’s almost painful to watch, especially for those who recognise the situation.
Hope Gap has quintessentially English qualities, both for better and worse. It’s authentic but lacks any sparkle, it’s clever but too stuffy for its own good, it’s sentimental but awkward. Benning and Nighy find complexities in two underwritten characters, whilst O’Connor proves why he’s one of the brightest British actors at the moment despite having little to do but stare open-mouthed at his parents.
Hope Gap is deeply sad, and struggles to find any balance. “The thing about unhappiness is that after a while, it stops being interesting,” Grace muses; and this film really suffers from this statement. A shot at some dark humour wouldn’t have been amiss, the tension so unbearable you long for a laugh. Hope Gap, like the marriage it portrays, is pleasant but entirely bored and stale.
Hope Gap is available on VOD from May 8th
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy