‘Hope Gap’ Requires Patience and an Open Mind

by Jonah Desneux on March 27, 2020

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up]

William Nicholson’s Hope Gap works best when the viewer puts themselves in the mindset of the three central characters. As obvious of a statement as that sounds, the film heavily focuses on the unchanging mentality of two impassioned characters during the greatest disagreement of their lives.

Edward (Billy Nighy) plans to leave his marriage after 29 years for another woman. Grace (Annette Bening), Edward’s wife, refuses to accept her husband’s abandonment and the unfairness of the situation. At times Edward and Grace are likable, while at other times they are aggravating to no end. Nighy and Bening’s outstanding performances make their complicated characters’ grueling actions far more digestible than it would be if performed to a lesser degree. While still feeling unnerved by the couple’s behavior, the film creates great importance in explaining their reasoning even though the characters never fully understand each other.

If you are not able to engage with the perspectives (which I believe is understandable based on your own personal experiences), Hope Gap could be viewed as simply a miserable experience about a miserable character. However, in looking past the frustration, Hope Gap provides an interesting study in the effects a broken marriage can have on the soul and how we adapt to an unfair world. 

To get a good feel of the tone of Hope Gap, imagine if the separation in Marriage Story took place when the characters are in their 60s and instead of screaming at each other and punching holes in the wall, they read aloud sad poetry. Josh O’ Connor plays Jamie, the couple’s once distant son, who comes back to be with his parents as they make sense of their new life. The film is framed through Jamie’s perspective as he tries to care for his mother and comprehend both parent’s unwillingness to compromise. Edward believes that he has to leave the marriage because they’ve made a mistake believing they were right for each other from the beginning. Grace holds hope that Edward will come back and look past her abrasive nature, as she believes they truly love each other.

While both Grace and Edward are more compelling characters than Jamie, Nicholson is clever in how he uses the son as a middle man for both the parents and the audience. By not having the film feature a younger couple and the focus be on an older child’s point-of-view, Hope Gap not only conveys the message on how adults come to terms with their parents divorce but the revelation of understanding one’s parent as a genuine person, not just the grand image put upon your mom and dad. Nicholson’s showcase of this relatable parental epiphany is handled quite well. These moments of realization are effective by showing how Jamie is portrayed grasping new ideas and how it allows the audience to question what they would do in a similar situation.

Hope Gap’s most moving moments come from exploring the mother-son relationship. I might feel this way because I am a major Momma’s boy, who never wants anything bad to happen to his mom ever, but as mentioned earlier the effect of this film is heavily depending on how you relate to it. Grace clearly loves her son and has no issue displaying her affection, however, there is never the desired warmness in her motherly embraces. She lives her life solely based on her own reasoning, without having the ability to put herself in someone else’s shoes. Subtle lines of dialogue help infer how this has put a strain on Jamie and Grace’s relationship. While there is a clear love between the two, their initial connection has the feeling of more of an acquaintanceship as opposed to a maternal bond. The growth between the two in the film as they get past their distance, creates an authentic emotional impact, giving audiences something to invest in, knowing that there is no hope in the marriage.

The film goes by quickly even though by all means it is a very slow burn. Usually, films that deal with the topic of divorce have explosive scenes for viewers to cling onto. Other than the initial fight at the beginning of the film, there are not dynamic moments of rage. Instead, scenes are often repetitive with the characters saying the same thing over and over. While there is meaning in what is repeated, like the repetition chipping away on how Jamie views the situation and his parents, the film lacks needed substance. There isn’t a scene that stands out from the next and while that might work for some films, it doesn’t for what Nicholson attempts to accomplish with his.

As the film progresses, the reasoning and attitudes of Grace and Edward never change. The film doesn’t employ a grand journey of self-discovery for Grace, as it takes a more quiet approach in showcasing personal growth even when one’s opinion never alters. The situation of the divorce is unfair and both Grace and Edward admit to this. Grace longs for Edward to come to his senses and come back, but the film never tries to be a love story. The interest of the film is more in tune with exploring how people adapt to the unfairness. Without diving into the absurd, the characters attempt to find meaning even when they acknowledge that there isn’t any there. This acknowledgment though allows characters to find their freedom. Instead of fighting with each other or with themselves, they adapt to living their lives the way they want to. It might not be with who they want, but it is how they want to live it.


Jonah Desneux

Jonah Desneux is a recent graduate from the University of Missouri with a BA in Film Studies. It’s baffling that someone who just spent four years writing film paper after film paper would immediately want to write some more, but hey, he must love it! Along with writing about film Jonah enjoys writing and performing sketch comedy in Columbia and Kansas City.

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