- Emma Simmonds
- 24 August 2020
William Nicholson is at the helm of a hope-less divorce drama, starring Annette Bening and Bill Nighy
Tattered and torn relationships have delivered some of the most memorable drama in cinema history – from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Marriage Story, via Scenes from a Marriage and Blue Valentine. Not so with Hope Gap, a dull and often grating look at later-life marital breakdown and the impact on the couple's adult son, who was the glue that kept this ill-matched pair together.
Despite the husband's rather ordinary job as a history teacher, everyone here is terribly posh, as well as being terribly unhappy. Annette Bening makes a plummy and phoney sounding Brit, her accent a distraction as she plays poetry enthusiast and serial overreactor Grace. Grace has been married to Bill Nighy's sad sack Edward for 29 years; she's frustrated by his obvious unhappiness, irritated by his every utterance, but in denial as to their fundamental lack of suitability. When Edward plucks up the courage to leave her one day, after embarking on what sounds like a very chaste affair, Grace is incredulous. The break-up is bitter and their son Jamie (Josh O'Connor) is horrified when he's required to act as go-between.
The second directorial effort from William Nicholson, the twice Oscar-nominated screenwriter behind Shadowlands and Gladiator, is adapted from his 1999 play The Retreat from Moscow, its origins glaringly apparent in the theatricality and sometimes stilted nature of the interactions. Although set in picturesque Seaford surroundings, it feels tremendously grim – other people's misery doesn't have to be this punishing. Nighy's lacklustre turn as the put-upon Edward is a big part of the problem: it's as if this charismatic actor has had all the life sucked out of him and it just isn't fun to watch. Despite Edward's insistence to the contrary, there's not even the vaguest suggestion in his manner that he has found happiness elsewhere, which makes things all the more depressing.
Bening gives it some oomph, yet Grace's pretentious and needling personality and suffocating self-pity mean she's a truly objectionable creation. O'Connor's Jamie is pretty awful too; he has some scenes with peers which awkwardly double as therapy and are almost laughably inauthentic. The basic scenario is, of course, perfectly credible and there are flashes of raw emotion but, in general, the lack of dark humour and spark during the angry exchanges is disappointing. As Grace's world crumbles and Edward looks guiltily on, it's just plain unpleasant, and not in an interesting way.
Available to watch in Curzon cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Fri 28 Aug.