So, after several times declaring that after the cinemas have re-opened my excursions thereto will be far less frequent than in the past, here am I, just three days since the last such visit, back again. Justification? Annette Bening. I'll see just about anything in which she features and here, in the starring role, she is utterly marvellous! With an exceptionally high-standard script by William Nicholson (who also directs) concerning a failing marriage it's essentially a human drama involving just three people, the ageing couple and their 20-something son. The husband is the ever-dependable Bill Nighy who, even if he seems invariably to play much same character, he is perfectly cast in this. Their only offspring is well represented by Josh O'Connor.
The story is based on Wm Nicholson's own experiences as he witnessed the collapse of his parents' marriage, with his own very solid script carrying the conviction of someone who's seen it happen first-hand. (He also penned the award-winning C.S. Lewis play , 'Shadowlands', later filmed by Richard Attenborough).
This was filmed last year in a location less then 30 miles away from where I'm typing this, along the English Channel coast. 'Hope Gap', which I'd never heard of is, I learn, one of this shoreline's local features.
Annette Bening is, unusually, playing English. I can only recall her doing it once before, in Ian McKellan's 'Richard III' of 1995. In 'Hope Gap' although her accent does falter a few times I didn't find it so much as to be distracting.
After 29 years of marriage she remains a non-working housewife while Nighy is a history teacher to teenage pupils, dutifully coming home at predicted times to routine cups of tea over desultory conversation with his wife where his lack of enthusiasm and inability to respond with emotion is, though she doesn't say it outright, getting on her nerves. The nub of the story is that he eventually plucks up the courage, after telling his son, to inform her that he's going to leave the marriage - and why. She's incredulous at first, not understanding why he doesn't want to work at saving the relationship. With sharp words exchanged, nearly all from her own side, he walks out on her, leaving both her and their son distraught. The body of the film concerns her fight to hold on to their marriage and his conviction that it's beyond hopeless to even attempt it. One might have thought there'd be a lot of shouty arguments, but while there are just a few points where Bening does raise her voice, - though there's no yelling, nothing headache-y - Nighy tries to retain sang-froid throughout, and largely succeeds, at least on the surface, he remaining softly spoken right through the personal upheaval.
I think the film works so well and is so convincing because the writer has written of what realistically did happen. Although in no way an 'action' film - very wordy, in fact - my attention never wandered once. One regret I did have is that a key encounter takes place close to the film's end, and the very last words of that exchange are uttered so under-the-breath that I didn't catch them at all, nor can guess what they were despite that moment being so crucial.
Bill Nighy in any film always commands one's attention even if he happens to be a background figure in a scene, though he's never so in this. But the undoubted true star here is Bening who has me going so far as to rate her performance here as possibly the best she has ever given. (Pity that the entire audience at the screening I attended was comprised of me alone).
You will note that the two average ratings stated below are nothing like I suggest. I have indeed seen more than just one being rather sniffy, one declaring the film to be 'old-fashioned', which may well be true. I can only reveal that out of all the films I've seen so far this year (yes, all fourteen of them!) this one has given me the most satisfaction of them all..........8.
(IMDb............6.6 / Rott.Toms.........3.8 out of 5 )