HOPE GAP. Starring: Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, Josh O’Connor, and Sally Rogers. Directed by William Nicholson. Rated M (Occasional coarse language). 100 min.
This British film is adapted from a Tony-nominated play, “The Retreat from Moscow”, written by William Nicholson, that was first staged in 1999 at the Chichester Festival, UK. The film deals with the consequences of a husband announcing to his wife and son that he plans to end his 29 years of marriage. The film is a personal reflection on what happened to the director’s own parents, and is inspired by his experience of their divorce. The title of the film, Hope Gap, is intended to extend comfort to people going through difficult times.
Grace (Annette Bening) and Edward (Bill Nighy) live modestly in the coastal town of Seaford in East Sussex, England, which is nestled among scenic landscapes and white ocean-cliffs. Grace and Edward have shared a house close to the sea for decades, and both have entrenched themselves in their work routines, which have isolated them from each other. Edward is a history teacher, who corrects articles for Wikipedia. Grace is a poetry anthologist.
Edward has privately invited his son, Jamie (Josh O’Connor), to come home, and he announces to Jamie on the day of his 29th. wedding anniversary that he plans to leave his mother the same day. Edward tells his son after his wife has gone to Church, and Edward delivers the news to his son at a kitchen table in his home while he is quietly having tea and toast. Grace returns from Church to hear what has happened. There are strong hints beforehand that all is not right between Grace and Edward, and Edward had already decided he needed Jamie’s help to deal with his intended separation. The announcement devastates both Grace and Jamie. Grace is particularly shocked that her husband is leaving her for a younger woman (Sally Rogers) after so many years together, and she cries out to Edward in disbelief.
The film intimately examines the effect of Edward’s announcement on everyone. An anxious Edward wants Jamie to stay over to help his mother, but Jamie doesn’t understand why his parents’ separation has to happen. Grace is shocked that her husband doesn't want to fix whatever has gone wrong. Throughout the film, the acting of Nighy and O’Connor, and especially Bening as the abandoned wife, is convincing and compelling.
Highly significant themes are explored in the film, such as the comparison of a widowed woman to a woman who is spurned, and the irony conveyed by Grace working on an anthology of poems that aims to tap the range of human experience – which encompasses the feelings of abandonment. To survive, Grace decides to help those feeling depressed, and she buys a dog that she names after her husband, and teaches it to respond obediently to the command, 'Stay'. Both are contrasting events in the film’s account of a relationship gone terribly wrong.
Annette Bening and Bill Nighy bring consummate skill to the demanding roles of a controlling woman and a non-communicative husband. Edward and Grace have taken different routes to private versions of their own happiness, and they impressively project the tragedy of the human condition. Aided by a psychologically sophisticated script, the film dramatically and expertly conveys subtle and deliberate changes of mood, and William Nicholson, as director, avoids laying blame on just one person. The film intelligently communicates that when a long-term relationship dies, there is likely to be serious faults on both sides. The film makes it clear that Grace and Edward will have to live with the consequence of their actions – it doesn’t spell out what those consequences are, but the viewer knows they will be present for a long time.
This film is essentially about what 'not to do', as well as 'what to do', to protect a relationship that is fracturing badly. It establishes a heavily dramatic tone, punctuated with comic and melancholic moments, about two unhappy people, who look for ways to survive after a life-time of living together. The film explores a married couple’s journey through frustration, pain, love, and anger, where hope may, or may not, fill the gap that they have created for themselves.
Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of Jesuit Media
Released 3 September 3 2020