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Review: Anchor and Hope

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As a small houseboat emerges from the dark on the tunnel. London’s Regent’s canal provides both the setting and rhythm of this romantic comedy-drama about a 30 something Lesbian couple trying to decide on whether to have a child and what that means for their currently responsibility-free lifestyle.

Eva (Oona Chaplin) and Kat (Natalia Tena) have been together a long time. They are in love, but like a lot of couples in long-term relationships, the question of what happens next hang over them.. Eva wants a baby, Kat doesn’t, brushing it off as narcissistic. The arrival of Kat’s scruffy Spanish friend Roger (David Verdaguer) sets off a drunken pact that he will donate his sperm to the couple. It’s a hastily made arrangement that might capsize them all.

The idea that three people would come to such a huge decision in an irrational way is believable because of the characterisation and the chemistry between the central cast. Roger is a charming drifter, relishing the chance to do something selfless. Oona Chaplin and Natalia Tena glide between affectionate in-jokes and passive-aggressive exchanges instead of honest discussion.

But, as they discover – even a progressive life outside conventional and heteronormative relationships comes with its own problems. They need to write their own rules, which they’re struggling to agree on.

Director Carlos Marques-Marcet and co-screenwriter Jules Nurrish’s script captures the nuances of co-habiting in a small space, especially the often romanticised idea of life on the boat. The three sit on a bedecked roof and calmly moor up and down the east London waterways. But there are massive Lock gates to open and chemical toilets to empty. It’s not all rosy.

An unexpected voice of reason comes in the form of Kat’s hippy mum Germain (played by Oona Chaplin’s real mother, Geraldine Chaplin) who questions the logic in their situation, despite being referred to as a “magnificently wacky lady” earlier. She points out that none of them have stable jobs, “Two people is complicated, but three people is just asking for disaster”, Germaine warns.

The pact seems to create a bond between Eva and Roger but alienates Kat. Familiar ‘other person’ rom-com beats play out in a predictable but charming way.

It’s a film that feels like a (more gentle) heir to the Stephen Frears and Hanif Kureishi films of the 80s like Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.  Anchor & Hope uses the London backdrop to make wider social commentary that is hinted at in dialogue but better expressed in through Dagmar Weaver-Madsen’s cinematography.  Gentrification looms large over Eva and Kat’s boat as old Gas Holders have been developed into glass-fronted luxury apartments but boorish sexism of the older men that drink in the Anchor & Hope pub where Kat works have probably been the same since before the 1980s, ditto the pub’s decor.

The city background together with an occasional 60s soundtrack makes the film both modern and old. Not unlike its characters, from the vintage clothes they wear to the rejection of societal norms, the idealism of a past era struggles to keep balance with life today.

Although there are strong performances all around, Eva is the most developed of all the characters. We never learn much about Roger, and Kat’s lack of interest in having kids is dismissed as a case of arrested development, at least from Kat’s point of view. Somewhere in the ‘Two women, a man and maybe a baby’ concept some of the other character arcs lost their way.

Anchor & Hope deals with modern relationship problems with heart and wistful humour.  The waterways represent both freedom and entrapment. Like a trip along Regent’s canal, the pacing ambles along gently but is peppered with unforeseen stress and colourful characters.

Anchor and Hope is out in the UK on 28th September 2018.

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