Day 3 at TIFF19 – ‘Hope Gap’ Navigates the Edge with Skill and Sure Footedness

Day 3 at TIFF19 – ‘Hope Gap’ Navigates the Edge with Skill and Sure Footedness

The dramatic white cliffs of Hope Gap on the Sussex coast are, at first, beautifully picturesque, but the more one gazes at their majesty, especially with the sweeping cinematography of Anna Valdez Hanks, the more dizzying they start to become. They conjure up vertigo imagery that evoke an instability in our trembling legs, much like the seemingly intact forever couple played with authentic cracks and stillness by the wonderfully dynamic Annette Bening (Broadway’s All My Sons, “The Kids Are All Right”) and Bill Nighy (National’/Broadway’s Skylight, “Love,Actually“). Their engagement crackles with subtle tension, even as Bening’s accent wobbles a bit here and there. She goes for him with a force to be reckoned with, trying to cajole a fight out of the reserved facade. She needs more words from him so she knows he’s fully in, but she gets much more than she bargained for. These two pros know just how to layer on the tightness in an allusive calm, knowing there is no competition with Wikipedia, just stories of the dead littering the side of the battered roads, frozen and stripped, so another can survive, even when clothed in guilt. Tied together on a wrong train so many years ago, the quiet moments inside their compartment rattle with the frustration and disappointment that has been simmering on the back burner just waiting to boil over into a full table toppling fit. And it’s completely engaging to witness.

Bill Nighy in ‘Hope Gap’. Photo: Robert Viglasky/Roadside Attractions.

Poised in between, their son, Jamie, exquisitely portrayed by Josh O’Connor (Donmar’s Versailles, “Florence Foster Jenkins) ushers us through like a gatekeeper. His face holds years of sadness held in check, but he plays the mediator role demanded of him, keeping a watchful eye on the both. He’s tender in his care, even while struggling inside his own pot of pain, trying to find his poetry of want and desire that is hiding somewhere deep in his ambivalence to all things connected with love and attachment. It’s a gentle portrait of a young man lost, while being asked to rise up and take care of a mother in crisis and a father who might have taught him his own detachment. The way Grace goes at her son when she has no one else to go for stings the sentimentality from the wounds, and makes us see the complications of a marriage based on wrongful thinking and express trains that bypass where you truly want to go.

Annette Bening, Josh O’Connor in “Hope Gap“. Photo: Robert Viglasky/Roadside Attractions.

Framed with astute understanding of the emotional complications of disengagement, Oscar-nominated writer-director William Nicholson (“Firelight“) navigates the edge of that cliff with extreme skill and sensibility, never losing focus of Bening’s razor-sharp edge of demanding drama. Grace is “fine, fine, fine”, but she’s most skillfully not. The couples push/pull and retreat rings true and heartbreaking in its painful honesty. Nighy’s Edward does the unthinkable, as least in Grace’s unblinking eyes, but can we find blame in his hopeful desire to make amends to the both of them? As portrayed by the four-time Oscar nominee, Bening makes Grace anything but that, smashing her anger, frustration, and even her depression out with a force, clashing religiously with anyone close enough to feel her jab. She’s filled to the brim with pain and loss, challenging all around to withstand her attacks, while simultaneously holding her back from the edge. The climatic interactions with both the men in her life are weighty with tense conflict, bordering on dangerous and manipulative. The drama is also achingly authentic and coming from a true place of loss and confusion without giving us any stereotypical stances to find our footing on. “Hope Gap” resonates, giving weight to the tragedy of broken long-term love being something other than typical or even something based on deep connection. It pulls us in through the hopeful bits of life found in the small pools at water’s edge when the tides of anger are out.  The cliffs can’t drag us over, nor do we slip and fall. They just gave us a vantage point to see more than we ever tend to see inside a three decade long attachment that was never poetically fulfilling to begin with.

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My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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