Superb acting, scenery in otherwise dreary divorce drama.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Hope Gap is a British drama about an aging couple whose adult son becomes their mediator when they decide to divorce. In one scene, we understand how 29 years of marriage between demonstrative Grace (Annette Bening) and reticent Edward (Bill Nighy) has created a standoff: She whips herself into a tornado of rage and slaps him across the face for refusing to engage with her self-induced drama. Depression leads to suicidal thoughts, but Grace is dissuaded by her son (Josh O'Connor), who uses an argument that would likely be effective for any parent grappling with similar feelings. Other than the mature themes and one use of "f--k," there's very little iffy content here. However, there's also very little for kids. The film seems mostly meant to serve as a comfort for adults going through a difficult time. That's where the title comes into play: The film is a resource you can turn to if you're going through a similar "hope gap."
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What's the Story?
In HOPE GAP, viewers are introduced to mild-mannered Edward (Bill Nighy), who -- after 29 years of marriage -- plans to divorce his overbearing wife, Grace (Annette Bening). To do so, he enlists the help of his adult son, Jamie (Josh O'Connor).
Is It Any Good?
As much as this dreary drama looks like a movie, it's not: It's a play. It's only cinematic element is the sweeping landscape photography that turns the crisp, cold beauty of Seaford, Sussex, into a metaphor for Grace's chilly marriage. Speaking of Grace, in that role, Bening proves she's a director's fairy godmother: You can hand her a mousy script, and she'll turn in a performance so heartrending, ferocious, and original that the film transforms. (Her British accent here is a shock, but she nails it, of course -- which prompts the realization that if she really were a Brit, we'd be calling her Dame by now.) Her co-stars turn in equally remarkable performances, but they have less to work with. Nighy's Edward is a mild, reserved teacher who volunteers as a Wikipedia contributor for fun: When he falls in love with another woman, he finds the crutch to leave his wife, but only by using his adult son as a shield. And Jamie is a chip off the old block, also shrinking in the presence of his mother, a woman who shows her love by picking at and hammering her family.
But unfortunately Hope Gap is all talk and no action. The characters' conversations could take place anywhere -- like, say, a stage. In fact, it's adapted from one of writer-director William Nicholson's own plays. A two-time Academy Award-nominated screenwriter (Gladiator, Shadowlands), Nicholson may be too close to the material. The movie is based on his own parents' divorce after 33 years of marriage. Certainly, it's possible to pull off a talky film about divorce -- see Marriage Story and The Squid and the Whale -- but this attempt lacks the levity and relatability of those scripts. Perhaps Hope Gap's biggest contribution will be marking the point where moviegoers finally start saying, "Well, that director's no Noah Baumbach."
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how Hope Gap portrays marriage problems. Is it realistic or "Hollywoodized"? How do problems between spouses tend to affect a family?
Discuss the role of communication in a successful relationship. How does the film fill us in on 29 years of communication problems between Grace and Edward?
Who's the main character here? Does knowing that this is a semi-autobiographical story about writer-director William Nicholson's parents, who divorced after 33 years of marriage, affect your answer to that question? Can the "lead character" be different than the "main character"?
Grace is a poetry anthologist. What's an anthology? Is the film an anthology, too?
The line "I have been here before" was taken from Dante Rossetti's poem "Sudden Light." What is the meaning of the line? Do you find that idea comforting?
- In theaters: March 6, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: July 7, 2020
- Cast: Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, Josh O'Connor
- Director: William Nicholson
- Studio: Screen Media Films
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements and brief strong language
- Last updated: October 8, 2022
Our Editors Recommend
All-too-real divorce drama isn't kid stuff; strong language.
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Heartfelt dramedy has strong story and characters.
Under the Tuscan Sun
Book-based romance has sex, drinking, language.
Eat Pray Love
Find-your-bliss film appeals but raises questions, too.
'80s comedy-drama has mature themes, profanity.
The Squid and the Whale
A family falls apart -- for adults only.
For kids who love media that helps with big issues
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