Haunting portrait of the unravelling of a marriage
‘Idon’t like things coming to an end.’’ That’s always been Grace’s (Annette Bening) excuse for leaving halfdrunk cups of tea around the house. It’s something that’s consistently frustrated history teacher husband Edward (Bill Nighy), not that he would dare say so.
In turn, that lack of reaction occasionally enrages Grace, as witnessed by son Jamie (God’s Own Country’s Josh O’Connor) on his first visit to their seaside home in months. While it sparks an upending of the kitchen table – crockery and all – Grace assures him that it ‘‘doesn’t mean anything if we quarrel from time to time’’.
However, it’s while Grace is away at mass the following morning that Jamie’s world really does cave in. It turns out, his father has different feelings on the subject. Convinced that he ‘‘can’t make Grace happy any more’’, he reveals that he’s going to leave her – that morning.
‘‘I’m the wrong person – she’s better off without me. Also, I’ve fallen in love.’’
While accepting his father’s decision, Jamie pleads with him to break it to her more gently. The trouble is, it isn’t until he’s physically out the door with his belongings that she even comes close to believing him and, even then, she’s not going to let him go without a serious fight.
Clearly aiming to be this year’s Marriage Story or 45 Years, Hope Gap is certainly filled with tense moments, haunting scenes, mournful regrets, and vicious recriminations.
Written from his own experience of the breakdown of his
parents’ partnership, first moulded into his 1999 play The Retreat from Moscow, film-maker William Nicholson (behind the camera for the first time since 1998 Sophie Marceau-starrer Firelight) describes it as the mid-point between Brief Encounter and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Certainly this is a tale where it is hard for the viewer not to take
sides, or bring their own baggage to their perception of events.
Nighy and Bening are impressive, although there’s an argument that neither is hardly out of their comfort zone.
The former specialises in repressed men and the latter has been increasingly attracted to more challenging mature characters (think Film Stars Don’t Die in
Liverpool’s Gloria Grahame and 20th Century Women’s Dorothea Fields).
In particular, Bening’s maudlin, manipulative Grace won’t appeal to everyone as a nice time out at the cinema (‘‘that’s the thing about unhappiness, after a while it stops being interesting,’’ as she so adroitly and ironically puts it), but you can’t deny she’s memorable.
This is a tale where it is hard for the viewer not to take sides.
Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, and Josh O’Connor, inset, in Hope Gap, a study into what happens when a long-term marriage ends.