Haunt­ing por­trait of the un­rav­el­ling of a mar­riage

The Timaru Herald - - Weekend Entertainm­ent - Hope Gap (M, 101 mins) Di­rected by Wil­liam Ni­chol­son Re­viewed by James Croot ★★★

‘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.

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