Saturday 10 December 2022

Movie Review: Hope Gap (2019)

A marriage-in-crisis drama, Hope Gap rides the energy of coiled emotions and superlative performances.

In Dover on the coast of England, Grace and Edward (Annette Bening and Bill Nighy) are a long-married couple. A writer and lover of poetry, Grace is controlling, talkative, and pesters Edward about his true feelings, sensing the marriage is turning cold. Indeed, college history teacher Edward is fed up with Grace's overbearing manipulations and is having an affair with Angela, the mother of one of his students.

After encouraging their son Jamie (Josh O'Connor) to visit from London, Edward breaks the news to Grace that the marriage is over and immediately moves out. She is shocked and refuses to accept reality, then embarks on an arduous journey to try and regain equilibrium.

Directed and written by William Nicholson (adapting his own play), Hope Gap burrows into layers of resentment. Adhering to fine English traditions, Edward has stoically suffered in silence for years, but now has reached his limit and draws an abrupt line under a three decade relationship. The dreary countryside ending at Dover's spectacularly steep cliffs provides an apt metaphor for narrative suddenness.

Once the bond cracks, the triangular tension between an incredulous Grace, a relieved Edward, and their caught-in-the-middle son Jamie provides fine foundations for a mature drama. Nicholson focuses on Grace, her sense of smug self-confidence shattered as she confronts a never-imagined scenario. In a performance packed with subtlety, Annette Bening is stellar in tracking shock, denial, anger, then despair. Bill Nighy is equally impressive quietly releasing bottled-up emotional suffering.

Nicholson also cares about the often ignored dynamics tugging at a grown child when parents split up. Jamie's role gains prominence as the movie progresses, and he tries to maintain functional relationships with both Grace and Edward despite being often shoved into the line of fire. 

Poetry readings and historical tidbits related to Napoleon's Russian campaign add both texture and clutter, but Hope Gap nevertheless wraps-up within an efficient 100 minutes. This study of a dying marriage wisely avoids wallowing.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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