LFF Review #2 – Hope Gap [63rd BFI London Film Festival]

HOPE GAP [Headline Gala]

Director: William Nicholson

Cast: Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, Josh O’Connor

UK Distributor: Curzon Artificial Eye

Genre: Drama • Year: 2019 • Country: UK • Running Time: 100 minutes • Image: Colour • Language: English

William Nicholson takes up the directorial reins for just the second feature of his career (and the first in more than 20 years) with Hope Gap, a poignant and darkly humorous divorce drama set in the picturesque coastal town of Seaford.

Annette Bening and Bill Nighy star as a couple whose increasingly banal marriage is shattered just days before their 29th wedding anniversary when Nighy’s subdued and deeply unhappy history teacher Edward announces he is leaving for another woman.

Edward is tired of never being able to do or say anything right, and has found some much needed happiness in the form of Angela, the younger mother of one of his students, though upon hearing Edward’s revelation, Bening’s focused poetry editor Grace refuses to accept the situation, convinced he’ll never actually go through with things.

What then follows is a rather bitter divorce battle between the pair, with their grown up son (an excellent Josh O’Connor) torn between the two and unfairly forced to act as mediator.

Despite Nicholson’s delicate direction it is the surprisingly clunky and expositional dialogue by the Oscar and Tony nominated writer of Shadowlands and Gladiator that lets things down. The cast work well with what they have, and Bening delivers some cracking one-liners and sarcastic put-downs, though for the most part it lacks a sense of authenticity and never feels as hard-hitting or emotionally wrought as it should.

Hope Gap is a film ultimately carried by the strong performances of its central trio, though Bening does struggle with the British accent from time to time which sadly tends to restrict the full range of her acting capabilities.

Beautifully lensed by Anna Valdez Hanks, and accompanied by a suitably elegant score by Alex Heffes, Hope Gap is a sophisticated and well-rendered drama when at its best, though it lacks the full depth and complexity it initially hints at, despite moments of real promise.

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