Starring Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, Josh O’Connor
Directed by William Nicholson
Rating: **** (4 stars)
Okay, I am holding back here. I would have gone with a 5-star rating for this excruciatingly beautiful portrait of a marriage falling apart. But all my editors feel I am too generous with the ratings….So here I am, practicing the ‘less is more’ ideology for a change.
This is what Hope Gap does. It is extremely austere in reifying the emotions that we can see swell up in the characters as they face a situation they never expected. After 30 years of a comfortable marriage , who quits? It sounds ridiculous to even the man, played with tremendous restrain and dignity by Bill Nighy.
For years Edward has been taking in his wife’s bantering and bullying, taunting and temper tantrums.
“Why didn’t you tell her that you hated her attitude?” their shocked son Jamie asks his father as the patriarch prepares to leave home one not so fine Sunday morning while matriarch Grace attends church, clueless that her husband’s plans to change her life, THEIR life, so suddenly at a time when she dreamt of only the calmness of a shared retirement.
It’s a cruel baffling scenario, as seen through the eyes of the son. Josh O’Connor as the son who has his own problems away from home in London to deal with, fills the film with nurturing empathy. In one of the film many memorable sequences (almost every moment is unforgettable) Jamie tells his only two friends how, when he was a child, his parents would pick him from both sides and swing him midair while walking together. As he tells this, his voice cracks. The tears flow.
Stop Gap is not only about the tears, though. There is tremendous warmth and laughter in the way the nuclear family deals with this unexpected crisis. The redoubtable Annette Bening as the abandoned wife is her usual magnificent yet understated self. As the moody hot-tempered Grace, she never realizes what irrevocable damage she has been causing to her marriage over the decades. And when the wages of her insensitivity weigh in on her marriage she is completely ill-prepared for the storm.
I loved the sequence in the lawyer’s office where she walks in with her new pet dog named Edward after her deserter husband and then, as expected, creates a scene, finally walking out on the lawyer, her husband and their divorce settlement accusing the lawyer of behaving like Nelson Mandela (!!).
For me the crux of the film is the mother-son sequences. Bening and O’Connor play majestically against one another, creating the kind of umbilical tension that most children of warring parents would recognize. At one point Jamie tells his mother to let me him know if she’s planning to end her life after the marital abandonment. No, it’s not a joke shared between mother and son. It is a statement on the enormity of the grief that Jamie’s father has left behind. And yet you can’t hate the man for finding love elsewhere.
Hope Gap has no room or patience for hatred. It’s a gently undulating beautifully shot saga, moving like the waves that tug and prod the rocks of Sussex where the muted drama is located. The film ends on a note of hope. Yes, life goes on, no matter what. But sometimes the wounds are too deep to heal. The film reminds us of those hurts that never fade. It’s not a film about love and romance. It’s about the end of love and marriage. But it’s not the end.