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Review: Hope Gap

March 13, 2020

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Written and directed by British screenwriter William Nicholson, who based the story on his own parents, Hope Gap is the sort of quiet drama that gets by almost entirely on its performances.

The main characters are Grace (Annette Bening) and Edward (Bill Nighy), an old married couple who bicker constantly, but have stayed together for over thirty years. Edward is very quiet, and Grace is neurotic by nature, which makes their relationship somewhat volatile.

In her attempts to elicit the sort of emotional responses from him that she craves, Grace often chews out her husband, and even resorts to physical violence just to get a reaction out of him, as he stands idly by not wanting to further rock the boat.

But when their young adult son, Jamie (Josh O’Connor), returns home to visit from London, Edward drops a bombshell; he intends to leave Grace that afternoon and go to live with another woman, and wants Jamie there to help pick up the pieces. While Edward happily goes to pursue his new life, Grace is left devastated, and has an increasingly hard time accepting the breakup, despite the fact that her and Edward were clearly wrong for each other.

Bening and Nighy are both quite good in their own ways, bringing interesting shades to their very different characters, with O’Connor portraying their son as a mixture of his parents. Similar to how certain viewers reacted differently to Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story in terms of who they related to more in that film’s decaying relationship, it’s easy to imagine audience members taking different “sides” when watching Hope Gap in terms of who they most strongly sympathize with. For me, it was Nighy’s character, but Nicholson had the audience do a show of hands after the film’s TIFF premiere, and the theatre was pretty evenly split between the two sides.

Because of his personal connection to the material, Nicholson is fairly even handed in his portrayals of both Bening and Nighy’s characters, and his screenplay does feature a few insights, even if the dialogue is also a bit too on the nose at times. This is ultimately a fine but somewhat unremarkable portrait of a disintegrating marriage, that feels conventional in its construction but is elevated by its central trio of performances.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

Hope Gap is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

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