Roadside Attractions/Screen Gems
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: William Nicholson
Screenwriter: William Nicholson based on his play “The Retreat from Moscow”
Cast: Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, Josh O’Connor
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/5/20
Opens: March 6, 2020
In one scene Grace (Annette Bening) sighs that after a while, unhappiness ceases to be interesting. This may be true but “Hope Gap,” filled with unhappiness and meditative poetry, remains interesting throughout. Perhaps the major reason for this is the near-miraculous performance of the kind that Annette Bening gives. Or maybe because the film written by directed by Williams Nicholson in his sophomore contribution (his play “The Retreat from Moscow” compares the costly withdrawal of Napoleon’s forces from Moscow to the end of a three decades’ long marriage), pairs two thesps who work so well together that they convince of their inability to get along. The story is based on the marriage dissolution of the writer-director.
As you watch Grace and her long-term husband Edward (Bill Nighy) argue, you might be tempted to side with Edward, who has been worn down by his more outgoing wife’s insistence that he talk, even fight. In fact her nagging gives the appearance that she is a shrew who wants to make her man not what he really is, and in fact Edward states that she has been in love with her fantasy of a husband. Then again, you’d want to consider that she may have a good point. Women generally like to talk while men like to act, or so Esquire Magazine sometimes tells us, and Edward, who is a high-school teacher who discusses poetry as though he were declaiming to college majors in English literature, is clearly introspective.
Though Edward is actually in love with one Angela (Sally Rogers), the mother of one of the pupils, he has waited to tell Grace of his unhappiness and his wish to change gears somewhat past middle age. He wonders, as do we in the audience, whether he has been unhappy during the entire length of the marriage. He uses his own son Jamie (Josh O’Connor) as a sounding board, is advised by the twenty-something lad who lives alone and so far as we see has no girlfriend or love life, to keep the bond with his wife. When Edward tells Grace “I’m no good for you,” he uses the standard self-deprecation that both sexes have employed in efforts to mitigate their guilt.
Like Jamie, who is given a considerable role to show his personality when he is with two friends his own age, Jess (Aiysha Hart) and Gary (Nicholas Burns), Nicholson does not take sides, allowing us in the audience to spend the evening with our own friends discussing who is more at fault. Edward’s guilt aside, what is most fascinating is watching how Annette Bening, the only one in the cast who is not British, takes on the king’s English in registering a wide range of emotions, particularly the rage that is covering up the intense feeling of abandonment and lack of agency in negotiating with the person she has lived with for twenty-nine years. Yet she has only a vague inkling that they may have been a mismatch from the start.
There is an extra dose of disappointment to see that Seaford is a spot perfect for a romance of people during their mature years. Anna Valdez Hanks films on location in the south of England which looks over the English Channel from its white cliffs. Some may argue that we do not know enough about the couple, something that may give us insight into the one-sidedness of their split, but we see enough to fill in the backstory with our imagination.
The film will be appreciated by a prospective audience in middle age or beyond, though it’s a pity that dramas focusing on the mature are rarely attended by the callow.
101 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+