HOPE GAP (2020)
Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, Josh O'Connor, Sally Rogers
Directed by William Nicholson
Films about divorce can be devastating, as we’ve seen with Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.” In “Hope Gap” the fervent drive to separate by Scarlett Johansson or stay together by Adam Driver is missing, in fact you could say that passion is nowhere to be seen in the film by screenwriter/director William Nicholson. Still, every couple is different. In this case, Annette Bening plays the wife who’s just learned that her husband (Bill Nighy) is leaving her for another woman after 29 years of marriage. The storyline gets frustrating but the performances by the veteran actors are first-rate as is a welcomed Josh O’Connor (the smiling vicar from “Emma”) as their son.
Bill Nighy plays Edward, a schoolteacher who begins having an affair with a student’s mother (Sally Rogers), after being married to his domineering wife Grace (Annette Bening) for almost three decades. To be fair, almost any actress would appear domineering opposite Nighy, a terrific actor whose subdued temperament is part of his charm.
Watching Edward and Grace interact in the moments before he drops the bombshell that he’s leaving, it’s easy to see why he feels it’s time to jump ship instead of fighting to save the marriage. We don’t need to see flashbacks of the couple’s happier times to illustrate the disintegration of their union, being together for so long is testament enough that there were plenty of joyous occasions.
Nicholson’s screenplay makes it obvious that the marriage has become one-sided. Edward is made to feel that everything he does is wrong. Grace has a condescending tone when she speaks to her husband as if she’s interacting with a child. It’s not mean-spirited and in her mind, a gesture of affection, but Edward is left feeling incompetent. When Grace smiles and sips her wine, she’s asks Edward “We’re happy, aren’t we?” and he responds “Yes, we’re fine” without making eye contact. He’s not being honest with her and there lies the complexity of the situation which gives the film it’s driving force.
Edward calls the couple’s grown son Jamie (Josh O'Connor), who’s experience his own relationship problems, to come down for a visit and then breaks the news that he’s going to leave his mother. Sure, Jamie is shocked, but he takes the news rather well (I love British people) as if he understands that his father would only do this as a last resort. Nicholson’s story suggests that Jamie is on the path to follow in his father’s footsteps, and that's supported by O’Connor’s voiceover narration.
The plan is for Edward to tell Grace that he’s leaving her while Jamie’s down so he can help his mother cope with the news. When that moment comes, Bening jumps into fine form once again as she refuses to give up on the marriage, “You can’t just walk away after 29 years, you have to try!” to which Edward replies “I have for 29 years.” It’s a cheap shot and not true which he finally admits.
The film’s focal point becomes Bening’s platform to showcase her skills. Grace begins to admit to being domineering and we watch her refuse to believe that Edward is gone for good. Her life is filled with self-pity, even blaming God for abandoning her. Despite Grace’s overbearing tone, you can’t put the blame entirely on her. Edward never spoke to her about his true feelings over the years, nor is he giving her a chance to fight for the marriage. He seems himself as a chivalrous knight willing to sacrifice the marriage in order to make Grace happy, because obviously he can’t give her what she wants. But is he really just being selfish in order to find his own happiness?
Based on the director’s personal life as he watched his parent’s go through a breakup, the film is genuine and intimate. Anna Valdez-Hanks’ cinematography showcasing the scenic landscape with its sprawling seaside cliffs, along with Alex Heffes’ haunting score, helps balance the film’s grief with bursts of beauty. “Hope Gap” can be frustrating to watch at times, but Nicholson’s layered and complex screenplay along with the performances by the actors make this a rewarding experience.
(3 ½ stars)
Available On-Demand starting today on the following platforms
Microsoft Movies & TV