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TIFF 2019 Review: Hope Gap – “At its best when Bening and Nighy are sharing the screen”

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Image courtesy of TIFF

A relationship, especially a failing one, is all about the details. In this case, it can be as small as not offering a cup of tea or not asking about a partner’s day. The dissolution of a partnership starts with the small things but is usually just a cover for much larger issues.

Such is the case for Grace (Annette Bening) and Edward (Bill Nighy).  Grace is a free spirit with passion to her core and a love for poetry and spontaneity.  She longs to evoke a reaction in Edward – any reaction at all, positive or negative and is constantly ‘going at him’ to no effect.  Edward is an introvert, fixed on the day-to-day.  He’s quiet, reserved and just wants to be left to edit Wikipedia pages.  He longs for the quiet familiarity of routine.

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The couple is soon meant to celebrate their 29th wedding anniversary, though Edward has other plans.  Inviting their son Jamie (Josh O’Connor) to their home for the weekend, Edward tells him about his plans to leave Grace.  He’s tired of never feeling himself, and repeatedly notes that he always feels like he is wrong, that he can do no right.  Jamie is then forced to act as a buffer and messenger boy as he watches his family fall apart.

Hope Gap is written and directed by William Nicholson, who is better known for his words than his work behind the camera (he penned Gladiator after all).  His script has profound and clever moments and, despite the subject matter, also a fair amount of humour (more scenes with Grace and her dog please!).  The film would work well as a play and the dialogue often performs as such.  However, the film can feel a little repetitive, especially by overused panning shots of the English seaside and also in the way it circles around Grace’s downturn post-breakup.  This film is truly buoyed by the performances of its three central actors.

The film is at its best when Bening and Nighy are sharing the screen. Bening, sporting an English accent, has extreme highs and lows to perform as Grace but manages to never feel overly melodramatic despite her character’s tendency to lean this way.  Nighy’s performance is more restrained and nuanced.  While both are excellent here it’s still difficult to feel empathy for either of them.  Instead, it’s Jamie who garners the most sympathy and O’Connell deserves full credit for this.

Hope Gap won’t be for everyone, but if you’re a fan of verbose family dramas, as I am, then you’re likely to find yourself engrossed and engaged by this film.

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