Films reflecting the pain of divorce are, of course, nothing new in cinema, in fact, in the last few years, we have seen both Marriage Story 2019 and A Separation (2011). However, stories of older couples separating remain rare. In fact, apart from the beautiful and haunting 45 Years from Andrew Haigh in 2015, it would be fair to say that older couples rarely gain screentime. The turmoil of divorce and separation a preserve of younger people, who in turn, often have young children in tow. Therefore, writer/director William Nicholson’s new film Hope Gap offers a rare glimpse into the turmoil of separation following 29 years of marriage. The devastating loss of security and companionship surrounded by a need for escape and rebirth. As the shroud of destructive convenience and comfort is lifted. With a mother, father and son caught in the turbulence of its waves.
As the clock ticks down to their 29th wedding anniversary, Edward (Bill Nighy) and Grace (Annette Bening) sit comfortably in their coastal home. Their lives wrapped in mundane conversations and past reflections on bringing up their son Jamie (Josh O’Connor). Who now lives in London, his trips back home few and far between as he builds his own life. However, this convenient comfort is layered with stilted and often uncomfortable silence. With Grace forthright and often confrontational, while Edward remains calm yet distant and aloof.
As Jamie heads home for the weekend, the uncomfortable and tense atmosphere only escalates at the dinner table. But it is not until breakfast the next morning, that events suddenly take a new turn. With Edward announcing to Jamie that he plans to leave Grace, his reason, a new relationship and a strong feeling that his marriage ended long ago. Shocked, Jamie asks whether his mother knows, to which Edward replies no, but he intends to tell her on her return from church that morning.
The story that ensues is both delicate, complex and beautifully written, with Nicholson reflecting on his own experiences of family breakdown. The need to acknowledge and reflect upon the differing viewpoints of Grace, Edward and Jamie central to the journey. And it is here where Hope Gap resembles Haigh’s 45 Years. With a narrative that never allows the audience to take sides. As Bill Nighy’s disengaged, repressed yet free Edward butts up against Annette Bening’s attacking yet lonely and devastated Grace. Both performances full of emotion, dry humour, urgency and pain. But, its Josh O’ Conners Jamie, who holds the movie together. His need to please both parents, wrapped in his awakening to the realities and restrictions of love.
In the end, Hope Gap offers a glimmer of optimism, its poetic reflections on the birth and death of relationships cutting through the drama. However, it is also clear that the journey to this point has changed those involved forever. With Jamie becoming the negotiator and healer, while Grace searches for meaning and purpose, as Edward builds a new life. The love and security of all three adapting to a new, uncharted world.
Director: William Nicholson