Hope Gap. Strange title. Sort of jarring. Doesn’t really flow. Doesn’t really matter either. Hope Gap isn’t just two words stuck together. It refers to the place that the characters in this film took their son to when he was a child. And yet, it’s a lot more than that. It represents the struggle that the characters in this story face, the despair that’s always on their horizon. And then, by the end, it’s a nod to change. To something that they can look forward to.
The film is a story about a couple who, after 29 years of marriage, decide to separate. Or rather, he wants to separate. And she’s not on board with it. But what I felt set this film apart from others is the fact that their son Jamie, played by the brilliant Josh O’Connor, is in his late twenties. Learning that your parents are about to separate is one thing. Learning this for the first time as a late twenty something is another. I’ve always assumed the kids are really young if the parents call it quits. Or, as was the case with me, you’re eleven. And your world changes in a heartbeat. It’s because Jamie is an adult that this doesn’t quite end up as a woe-is-me story where the child is the victim. (Although, after countless moments of him having to act as the go-between for his mother and father, I absolutely couldn’t help but see him like that). Instead, it’s more of a slow-burner; a look at the dissolution of a marriage, an insight into how much two people can change and a reflection of the value of family and how this can be updated.
Annette Bening plays Grace – the anthology-writing wife who is on one side of this marriage while the much-loved Bill Nighy plays her opposite, Edward. A man who is clearly unhappy but who never plucked up the courage to tell the mother of his child. The film doesn’t seem to have an angle on who is responsible for the demise of this relationship. It’s easy to think that Grace is the damsel in distress here. After all, Edward has an affair and he fails to communicate with his wife. It’s frustrating to watch. But on the other side of the coin, Grace is constantly goading him – to the extent where, in one moment, she flips the kitchen table onto its side in anger. So, as is the case with anyone reflecting on other people’s relationships, the film is simply an onlooker. It’s saying – hey, we won’t judge. We get it.
I’m not spoiling anything by saying that eventually, Edward ups and leaves (it’s in the film’s summary) and when he does, it’s Jamie who is left to pick up the pieces. Grace might be the one in tears on the sofa, on the bottom steps of the stairs and down the phone to Edward as she begs for him back on a daily basis, but it’s Jamie’s silence that we’re drawn to. He doesn’t make a song and dance of the fact that the two most important people in his life have just announced that they will no longer be together. He can’t communicate clearly with his friends about it. His own romantic relationships won’t stand the test of time. And it’s sort of heart-breaking to watch O’Connor play this out in an obviously heartbroken but very understated way.
Because it creeps up on you, as an audience member, that the child who we’ve been watching, in flashbacks, playing around in the water crevices of Hope Gap, is now the adult in so many senses of the word. He’s the carer. The pacifier. The mediator. And all the other roles he probably never considered would be relevant to his life. It’s an interesting insight into the varying ways that family ‘updates’ can play out. Old or young children – long marriages or short marriages. Short relationships or long relationships. It can become very undignified. Very raw. And at times – very close to the point of devastation.
And so, what this film also made me realise was that we can be too quick to dismiss the effects of divorce or familial separation. Which is why I like talking about it. Let’s not pretend that this can’t be the worst things in the world. Let’s not pretend that I, along with thousands of others, might carry certain burdens with me forever. Let’s not pretend that seeing my two favourite people in this state hasn’t entirely altered some of my life perspectives forever.
But, as Hope Gap also serves to remind us, let’s also tell ourselves that there will always be hope. That people come out the other side. That the storm will pass. That new adventures will come up. That hearts will start to heal.
And so I strongly believe you should go and see Hope Gap. For the acting. For the brilliant directing. For the gentle but hard-hitting script. And for the friendly nudge that says things will be ok.