Written and directed by two-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter William Nicholson (Shadowlands and Gladiator), Hope Gap is a tranquil and sophisticated drama that follows a mature couple negotiating divorce when husband Edward (Bill Nighy) leaves his unhappy marriage with Grace (Annette Bening) after meeting another woman.
Based on Nicholson’s play The Retreat from Moscow, this feature feels like it would fit right in as part of the television plays of the 50s and 60s (albeit with a slight modern update). It is just as wry and melodramatic as one would expect from its premise. However, it also comes with a heavy dose of self-indulgent egoism that some viewers may find off-putting.
With a subdued style of direction and editing, the screenplay wears its theatrical origins proudly on its sleeve. Comprised predominantly of close-up shots of the small cast as they deliver large chunks of dialogue, there is a noticeable lack of visual flair aside from the occasional sweeping aerial shot. But the performances from Nighy, Bening, and Josh O’Connor (who plays the couple’s 20-something son) are so good that they’re able to carry the complex emotions Nicholson explores without the assistance of any cinematic technique.
Nighy is, as ever, a marvel to watch onscreen. Quiet and brooding, he allows viewers to empathise with Edward’s situation with the slightest of expressions. Bening is equally wonderful as Grace. However, her character is written as too venomous and vindictive to allow audiences to emotionally align themselves with her side of the story, as was perhaps intended. Similarly, O’Connor shares palpable chemistry with his onscreen parents; but his character is too much of a blank slate and middleman for the young actor’s talents to shine through.
It’s clear that Nicholson does have something to say on happiness and marriage, subjects eloquently explored through thoughtful dialogue. Despite his linguistic talents, though, his use of extensive poetic references is somewhat self-indulgent and adds little to the project. Likewise, his odd metaphor comparing marriage to Napoleon’s troops dying naked in the snow is puzzling to say the least.
A testament to the acting might of its central cast, Hope Gap is a modern take on the dramas of old. Though it stumbles in some areas, there is a timeless quality to this film rarely seen in modern cinema.
Hope Gap is released in select cinemas on 28th August 2020.
Watch the trailer for Hope Gap here: