Review: Annette Bening & Bill Nighy in ‘Hope Gap’

Annette Bening and Bill Nighy bring some sense of star power with their watchable turns in writer-director William Nicholson’s Hope Gap arriving this Friday on Curzon Home Cinema. Whist both stars – and the ever impressive Josh O’Connor – add some natural charisma, this sleepy divorce drama proves too slight emotionally and tonally too miserable to fully invest in.

Nicholson whose credits as a writer include Gladiator, Les Misérables, and Unbroken, also steps behind the camera for this tale of Jamie (O’Connor) who returns to his childhood home of coastal Seaford. His arrival is an essential one for his parents, Grace (Bening) and Edward (Nighy), whose marriage has reached rock-bottom due to a breakdown in communication. When Edward announces he is going to leave Grace, Jamie becomes the reluctant referee in the bitter separation between his feuding parents.

Much of the narrative groundwork of Hope Gap comes from the unsuspecting nature of the separation to Grace. Whilst Grace sees a breakdown in her communication with Edward – she views this as a rough patch that can be fixed by communication and effort. She fills his jacket pockets with love notes and looks forward to his return from work each day, yet Edward views things from a different perspective. Still loving Grace, Edward meets another woman and realises how unhappy he has been in his long term marriage. The two-way battle between the pair is set up with Grace reluctantly fighting the divorce and Edward attempting to detach and set up a new life with his new partner.

Whilst the coastal locations are stunningly photographed by cinematographer Anna Valdez-Hanks, often set to some lovely moments of narration in Bening and O’Connor’s character’s emotive poetry and a heartfelt score by Alex Heffes, Hope Gap is a film in which the main strengths come visually. The beauty of these locations, words, and scores often providing some slight levity to the bitter, often morose tone that sears throughout the film predominantly.

Bening and Nighy being naturally charismatic performers, help add a very human angle to the fold – bringing some lightness to the tonally bleak subject matter. They are not quite believable as a pairing, something that actually works for the narrative subject matter of a couple that does not work romantically. Yet there is a spark between their dramatic exchanges – Edward the passive bystander in their marriage hunts for his escape using the arrival of his son Jamie as his life raft; whilst Grace does not intend to let the marriage die without a fight.

Yet all the squabbling and anger in the film, with only few moments of levity and humour can make Hope Gap quite a grim and overtly miserable watch. There are slight glimmers of joy in Jamie’s interactions with his friends, whilst the picturesque scenery and score can add a sense of whimsy to proceedings but the film generally finds it hard to shake the sombre tone.


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