Hope Gap – William Nicholson’s Most Soul-bearing Albeit Far From Perfect Production ★★★

This month at the London Film Festival, William Nicholson released his autobiographical film “Hope Gap”. I had the wonderful fortune of being involved in discussion with the director himself to examine his reasoning and personal inspiration behind its production. 

This witty film explores the destruction of a 29-year long marriage when Edward (Bill Nighy) announces his plans to imminently leave his wife Grace (Annette Benning), having fallen in love with another woman. The film progresses by observing the ruinous impact this has on Grace and their son Jamie (Josh O’Connor).

“Some people sympathise with Grace, and others with Edward. Everyone, however, loves the boy which is great because he’s me.” Having drawn inspiration from the emotional breakdown of his own parent’s marriage, Nicholson stressed his personal ties to the plot from the outset. Emulating the emotional process was his key focus. Despite his past experience as the screenwriter for Les Misérables and Gladiator, Nicholson declared:  “I am a words man, not a picture man, but for this film, I had to become a picture man.” His clear consideration of camera placement was vital for the emotional framing of the scenes. Particularly, his use of silhouettes and filming from behind build up suspense to reveal his main characters and accentuate the feeling of absence – a central theme in the film. Notably, the extensive filming of large spaces across the Suffolk coastline, where the film is set, offers respite to chaotic family issues.

Nicholson spoke extensively about casting, stating: “I always had Bill Nighy in mind for the role of Edward and its safe to say this is a Bill Nighy we have never seen before.” While Annette Benning is magnificent and eloquent in her approach, it is her questionable British accent that makes her portrayal hard to believe. Overall, it is Josh O’Connor who is the biggest surprise. Nicholson confessed that “Josh was relatively unknown when he was cast and there was a big pressure to cast a bigger name, but he is perfect and he is going to go a long way, he is just so loveable.” O’Connor portrays Jamie’s inner affliction so perfectly that, in the end, we learn more about his own selfishness than his emotional turmoil.

Unsurprisingly, Nicholson nails the script, cleverly interweaving comedy throughout the plot making it marvellously witty. While the comedic element demonstrates Nicholson’s ingenuity, the plot itself is unoriginal; it fails to offer a new take on a classic divorce drama. Considering that Nicholson regards himself as a “words man”, it is a surprise to see that some lines appear out of touch with the characters themselves. At one point we are inclined to interpret Grace as a narcissistic psychopath. At another, we are encouraged to sympathise with her. This mystifies Nicholson’s intent with the characterisation. 

There are undoubtedly failures throughout the film, and his attempts to get in touch with his artistic side have not been executed to the fullest extent. His use of poetry throughout as a means of exploring the depth of human emotions adds flavour to the script. Nonetheless, this is overshadowed by the need for the plot itself to offer substance.

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