‘Hope Gap’ review: Annette Bening just right in a moving story of moving on - Chicago Sun-Times clock menu more-arrow no yes

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‘Hope Gap’: A moving story of moving on

Annette Bening gets it just right as a loving but maddening woman abandoned by her longtime husband.

Edward (Bill Nighy) tells wife Grace (Annette Bening) that he’s leaving her after 29 years in “Hope Gap.”
Roadside Attractions

This is how they met.

The young man was waiting for a train when he saw someone far down the platform who resembled his father. He instinctively raised his arm to give a wave — before he remembered his dad had passed away a few months prior.

On the train, the man was brushing away tears when a young woman approached to make sure he was all right. They began to talk and got lost in each other.

It sounds like the kind of simple and elegant and romantic story you’d hear at a milestone wedding anniversary celebration — but when Bill Nighy’s Edward recounts the tale to his grown son in the bittersweet and moving “Hope Gap,” it’s actually an explanation as to why Edward wants a divorce.

We were never supposed to be together, says Edward. I got on the wrong train.

Writer-director William Nicholson’s British-set “Hope Gap” is a Boomer “Marriage Story,” with Nighy’s Edward and Annette Bening’s Grace trading verbal darts. Edward has stunned Grace by telling her he’s walking away from their union after 29 years.

Hope Gap is an actual seaside place in Sussex, with dramatic cliffs and breathtaking views perfect for a windswept, melancholy drama. Edward and Grace live in one of those comfortable, charmingly rustic homes that feel well “broken in.”

Edward is a schoolteacher who spends much of his free time on Wikipedia, meticulously correcting errors. Grace is working on a book of verses to cover a wide range of human emotions and experiences, the idea being one going through a crisis could take comfort in realizing someone else has been there.

One morning after Grace comes home from church, rapid-fire chattering as she is wont to do, Edward sits her down and says he’s leaving her. He’s taken up with the single mother of one of his students, and his bag is packed and he’s leaving. Today.

At first Grace thinks he’s joking. Then she’s in denial. Then she lashes out at Edward, and understandably so.

Josh O’Connor plays their adult son Jamie, who is devastated by the news and finds himself caught in the middle of the increasingly contentious divorce. The oh-so-polite Edward wants to move on as quickly and as quietly as possible, whereas Grace is a whirlwind of big emotions intent on having it out again and again, to the point where she’s nearly unhinged. (She gets a dog and names it … Edward.)

Looming divorce hits Grace (Annette Bening) hard in “Hope Gap.”
Roadside Attractions

At times “Hope Gap” goes over the top with the metaphors and the stagey speeches. And even though Edward is the one who abruptly leaves, the screenplay tends to favor his side. Time and again, we catch glimpses of Grace’s relentless and deceptively cheerful manner. She’s the kind of person who has a good heart and thinks of herself as a delight to be around — when in fact you find yourself muttering under your breath as she goes on and on about this and that, and reminds you of your every small failing.

To Annette Bening’s credit, she finds just the right notes to illustrate Grace’s capacity for love, as well as her special gift for never letting up and driving you a little bit crazy.

Edward has a good point about getting on the wrong train.