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MOVIES: Hope Gap (LFF 2019) - Review

Hope Gap is a very British film. (It's probably not a good idea to play a drinking game every time a tea cup is spotted in each kitchen scene.) Taking place in a small seaside town in rural England, it follows the breakup of a married couple and the fallout that it has on their lives and their adult son, who is working in tech and living out on his own in the city. The film looks at the differences that people can have in a marriage later in life and how breakups in marriages can destroy both people involved, and for the most part it’s a film that works, bound together by the impeccable performances of the film’s three talented leads, Bill Nighy, Annette Bening and breakout star Josh O’Connor, who can more than handle his own with two of the most experienced actors in the business on either side of the Atlantic.

It looks at a 29 year long marriage and asks whether or not just because these characters have spent 29 years together does that mean that they are happy, and although there are ups and downs that come with every marriage, Hope Gap seems determined to ram home the point that love cannot last forever. Nighy plays the husband, a teacher, Edward - with a sense of well meaning to him even if at times he is cowardly, and although Bening gets the best lines in the film and much more of the material at times, she struggles with keeping a consistent accent throughout the drama. But due to just how talented an actress she is, the audience can’t help but be swept up in her performance regardless, treating the breakdown in marriage as something equivalent to that of a death in the family, with her preferring the latter as it would leave her with something to mourn and good memories to cherish, rather than just having all memories, good and bad, spoiled by recent events.

O’Connor plays the couple’s young son Jamie who has a tricky balancing act to get right. How much of his father does he have in him? His mother uses him as a bargaining chip to try and get his father to stay, whilst Jamie does his best to play both sides and keep his parents happy. It’s a tough situation for him to go through especially as he looks at his parents and realises that he could well go through the same situation that they are going through later in life, and it’s the relationship between the three characters and how well it’s played out over the course of Hope Gap that is where the strongest elements of the film are.

However, there are certain elements that hold director William Nicholson’s film back from being as good as it could have been. The script itself feels very formulaic and heads in just about every predictable direction that you would expect it to take, and although Bening herself is convincing and there are moments where the film feels like it is about to dig deeper beneath the surface only to be beset at every turn when her motivation is cut out from under her, as she lacks the agency and independence that one would prefer, her character feeling very reactive rather than proactive.

Hope Gap doesn’t quite have as powerful an impact as a film with this amount of talent should have. Cinematographer Anna Valdez-Hanks takes full advantage of the decision to spread out the scenes set in small, idealistic English countryside houses with the openness of coastal beaches that help make the small town of Seaford feel alive and lived in. The excursions outdoors prevent the feel of repetitiveness from becoming too overwhelming, and Nicholson wisely interjects rare moments of brilliant comedy throughout the film’s runtime with some clever one-liners to prevent the depressing nature of the film feel too overwhelming, but overall, the film feels too much like a missed opportunity to wholly recommend.

Hope Gap is airing at the London Film Festival in October and you can watch a clip for the film here.

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