The dissolvement of a marriage is never an easy thing to navigate for anyone: whether spouse, offspring, sibling, or extended family member it’s always such a tough moment in people’s lives. This writer doesn’t have first-hand experience on such matters fortunately but has many friends who have been through the murky waters and it changes them forever. People react differently, of course, and life goes on but they will never be quite the same again, no matter how well or indeed not well said events are handled.
Drawing on his own experiences, Oscar-nominated writer William Nicholson delves deep into the pressures and fallout of a disintegrating marriage which leans heavily on his position between his parents when he was younger. Set in the picturesque seaside surroundings of the East Sussex coastline, with part of it called Hope Gap, the film tells of seemingly happily married couple Grace (Annette Bening) and Edward (Bill Nighy). Grace is the trouser wearer, the authoritative presence of the two with Edward the quieter soul but this dynamic has had an effect. He asks son Jamie (Josh O’Connor) to his childhood home one weekend whilst he tells Grace about his affair with a student’s mother.
A dialogue-heavy drama, Hope Gap is a compelling look at such events and while it’s performed beautifully, is a heavy watch that takes some endurance to get from beginning to end. It ebbs and flows well enough but feels like it would have been more comfortable staying in its original theatrical home, instead of moving to the screen.
Nicholson, back in the director’s chair for the first time in over two decades, does his utmost to inject some energy into the film and stretch the narrative beyond the “four walls” of the family’s home where it’s mainly set but doesn’t quite pull it off. There are some beautiful drone shots of the Sussex coastline that help layer in themes of the impending storm soon to circle but they all feel like unnecessary padding rather than narrative choices.
What does help keep it afloat is the trifecta of superb performances from its leads, from whom you’d never expect anything less from them, with O’Connor again the standout with a heartfelt and compassionate turn. So all in all, something of a mixed bag: it’s brilliantly performed by its ace cast and they bring the pain and anxiety of such personal trauma to life really well. But it feels too dense a piece to work as compelling cinema, despite their best efforts.
Drama | UK, 2019 | 12A | Cinema, Digital HD | 28th August 2020 UK) | Curzon Artificial Eye | Dir.William Nicholson | Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, Josh O’Connor, Aiysha Hart | Watch – William Nicholson Interview