Hope Gap sees Annette Bening and Bill Nighy star in this chilly depiction of divorce by the seaside
“Marriages only work because both people want them to work”
Sometimes it is hard to disguise your staginess. It’s true of many a theatre blogger and also of films that have been adapted from plays. William Nicholson’s 2019 Hope Gap is a cinematic version of his 1999 play The Retreat from Moscow and has had little problem attracting some serious acting talent. It debuted in Chichester with Edward Hardwicke, Daniel Betts and Dame Janet Suzman and on Broadway with John Lithgow Ben Chaplin and Dame Eileen Atkins but despite the presence of Annette Bening, Bill Nighy and Josh O’Connor here, it doesn’t quite pulse with enough life.
Edward and Grace have been married for nearly 30 years in what at first seems like companionable irascibility but when he invites their son Jamie to their home on the Sussex coast for the weekend, he reveals that he’s fallen in love with someone else and is leaving her. Thus we follow the fallout mainly through Jamie’s eyes, as he hopelessly tries to mediate between the befuddled hush of his well-intentioned but undoubtedly cowardly father and the nuclear rage of his shell-shocked and seething mother. And for better or worse, there really isn’t much more to it than that.
Without much narrative propulsion, there’s a distinct focus on the acting and in the hands of Bening, Nighy and O’Connor, there’s certainly some fine work here. Nighy mines his customary well-worn rumpledness, Bening is all sharp edges as the wounded Grace and O’Connor’s quiet emotion proves quite stirring. But at the same time, there’s a real froideur to the film, a coldness that keeps us at arm’s length. Amping up the intellectualism of the leads plays into this, the script’s literary pretensions weighing heavily, and so there’s little emotional engagement on offer. Anna Valdez-Hanks’ cinematography is impressive though.