Film review: Hope Gap

Annette Bening and Bill Nighy star in Hope Gap

Annette Bening and Bill Nighy star in Hope Gap - Credit: Archant

Bill Nighy’s dull schoolteacher dumps his shrew of a wife while their son looks on mystified in this underwhelming drama set on the Sussex coast

This is a film about a nice reasonable man who finally gets round to leaving the dreadful old shrew of a wife he’s been with for 29 years.

I’m sure I’m missing something there, some nuances are being overlooked, but I can only work on the evidence I’m presented with.

The couple lives in Seaford, between Eastbourne and Brighton on the Sussex coast and somebody’s drone got plenty of use on the sweeping coastal shots of the Seven Sisters white cliffs. It’s not Bexhill, but it is that kind of elephant’s graveyard for financially secure marriages to retire to. But one Sunday morning hen-pecked school teacher Nighy announces he’s had enough of being condescended to by his poetry-spouting wife Bening.

Probably he got tired of listening to her English accent. You couldn’t fault its accuracy but it is unyieldingly fierce and unforgiving, and it blocks up her performance like a head cold you just can’t shift.

You can’t imagine her ever having said “I love you,” without it seeming like the most withering of putdowns. Even after the devastating blow of being left, she can’t find any humility and still wants to make a scene whenever possible.

So obviously audiences side with Nighy.

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Now, confession time: I have to admit that I don’t understand why Nighy has this national treasure status. His character arc in Hope Gap is quite telling: he is slowly revealed to be a dull, dry, shrivelled man who Bening somehow mistook for being interesting. Yet even then she refuses to give up on the illusion, probably because of all the years she has invested in it.

It’s hard to know quite what our interest is in all this. Their adult son would be the obvious place for a clue, but O’Connor looks on as mystified as the rest of us. O’Connor was splendid in Emma and God’s Own Country but here he’s like a man who failed his Inbetweeners audition, offering glum and perplexed reactions to events. Perhaps he can’t believe that an acclaimed and successful screenwriter like Nicholson (Gladiator, Les Miserables) would use extracts from officers’ diaries about the inhuman conditions on Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow as a metaphor for getting through a divorce.

2/5 stars