Dir/Wri: William Nicholson | Cast: Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, Josh O’Connor | UK Drama 100′
William Nicholson’S second feature sees a hopelessly miscast Annette Bening struggle as a literary-minded English wife whose marriage is on the rocks. Bill Nighy plays her reserved husband, in his usual diffident style, more concerned for his work than his crumbling relationship.
Clearly Bening is there to sell the film to the US, but she never feels real in this maudlinly stagey affair with its flawed structure and awkward characters. Nicholson is such a brilliant writer, Oscar-nominated for Shadowlands and Gladiator but he needed a more complex and punchy counterpart to play against Nighy, who can suck the air out of any situation, and one who could have breathed life into some deft dialogue, rather than simply just reciting the lines. Nicholson reduced us to tears in Shadowlands but here we don’t care about any of his characters. Hope Bay mostly feels trite and generic, lacking in emotional depth.
Set in East Sussex, it sees Nighy’s Edward leaving his wife (Grace) of nearly thirty years. Their grown-up son Jamie (Josh O’Connor) is caught in the crossfire. Predictably, Edward is leaving because he can’t be the husband he thinks Grace wants – lame excuse – and is tired of trying, and of her complaining. All Grace wants is a little more reassurance that they’re “on a path together”. But clearly they’re not. Edward has been invited to walk away with someone else, someone more pliant and undemanding. Somehow Nicholson fails to mine the rich dramatic potential here in a drama that entirely lacks any dramatic sparkle. The only dynamism is in the widescreen wonder of soaring cliffs and magnificent views across the Seaford bay.
Edward announces he’s leaving Grace before we’ve even invested in their lives together, or got to know and feel for them as a couple divided by their respective points of view. Most of the film sees Grace moping about on the cliffs, or nagging Jamie about his own love life – or lack of it – and joining some bogus telephone helpline. No self-respecting counselling service would take on a person going through emotional trauma so the storyline isn’t even authentic. And rather than empathising with Grace’s perspective on her marriage failure, and appreciating Edward’s cowardice and his own viewpoint, we are simply left with a nagging woman, and a man who has been tempted by a new love. “It’s all contactless nowadays, Dad” says Jamie when Edward tries to buy him an ice cream. “You got it there” Edward retorts – and that telling phrase sums the film up. MT
NOW ON RELEASE FROM 28 AUGUST 2020