Hope Gap (William Nicholson, 2019)
Curiously, for a film set in Seaford in East Sussex, parts of this were filmed in Yorkshire. And this is just a couple of weeks after what may well be the same East Sussex cliffs stood in for East Kent. I look forward to Folkstone being the location for a remake of Wuthering Heights.
I’m been a fan of Bill Nighy since he was Sam Gamgee and I seem to recall I saw him on stage in Arcadia. As with William Macey and Tilda Swinton, I am apparently willing to see him in any old tosh — and whilst this isn’t old tosh, it doesn’t quite work. He has two personae — the louche rake and the repressed romantic. Sadly, we are getting more of the latter than the former these days.
Schoolteacher Edward (Nighy) has been married to writer Grace (Annette Bening) for twenty-nine years and they are clearly in a rut — as he explains, he got on the wrong train three decades ago and has never quite got off. Grace, meanwhile, is picking fights to try and brings things to a head — his desire to make her happy by doing what will make her happy does not make her happy. So, when he decides to move in with the woman he has been having an affair with for a year, he brings their son Jamie (Josh O’Connor) in to be her cushion.
Bening is meant to be the heart of the film — her Catholicism meaning she cannot accept divorce, and must of the film is her being miserable whilst it feeling like she is being unreasonable. I’ve seen this dynamic in real life and it is hardly fair on the partner who has been abandoned. She has some fine comic moments, but I’m not sure I ever really felt I cared.
Part of the problem is Bening, who was excellent in Ginger & Rosa, but is here focusing so much on her accent that the acting doesn’t quite have the space to breathe.
O’Connor is great, his character clearly being the young version of his father — although his own subplot is a little misplayed. I still haven’t seen God’s Own Country, but he was delightful in Only You and did his best in Emma. Like a lot of young actors, he is good at sad eyes and being basically likeable.
But we get to see his best friends and not his girlfriend; we do get to see Edward’s new beau, but not enough for us to really decide that he’s made the right or wrong choice.
Meanwhile, the film is too self-evidently a play slightly opened out, with a couple of 360 degree shots and drone flights over cliffs. The play was Nicholson’s The Retreat from Moscow, drawing on Edward’s interest in Napoleon, which forms the backbone of his voiceover but never quite means enough. Jamie is presumably a version of Nicholson and also gets a voiceover.
But shouldn’t Grace get one as well?