by writer/director William Nicholson
Many years ago, when I was in my late twenties, my parents’ marriage broke apart. It’s a common enough experience, and I’d seen it coming, and I was grown up, but I found myself overwhelmed by emotions I didn’t know how to handle. I loved both my parents, and knew both of them to be good people. How could they fill their world with so much pain?
Hope Gap is the story of that time. It’s necessarily only a version of what I learned back then, and the characters are only versions of myself and my parents, but I’ve struggled to convey the best truth I know. I wrote it weeping for my mother, so brilliant, so open with her emotions, so difficult to live with; and for my father, so gentle, so decent, so enclosed within himself. They were both reaching out for love, but their hands never touched. And I wrote it weeping for myself.
Annette Bening gives a heartbreaking portrayal of my mother, a 60-year-old woman who knows her marriage is dying, and can’t stop herself goading her husband for the love she craves. Bill Nighy delivers a master-class in the passive-aggressive mode with which good men do bad things. Josh O’Connor plays me, so frightened by the unhappiness, trying so hard to make everything all right, learning that nothing will ever be right again.
I filmed it in the little town on the south coast of England where we lived together as a family, before it all went wrong. I’ve aimed for a visual style that honours the truth of the characters first and foremost. Working with cinematographer Anna Valdez Hanks and editor Pia Di Ciaula we’ve striven to match the emotional moments beat by beat. This means eliminating any directorial flourishes. I want you as you watch the film to be unaware of the craft that’s gone into its making. I want you to believe in the characters, and care for them, and think as you watch about your own experiences. This is a film that has an ambition not much spoken about in cinema: it wants to touch the truth in us, and to find, deeper than the pain, the wisdom that makes life bearable after all.
My parents both survived. They came out on the other side of the pain to find new stronger selves. I too have survived, and made a marriage that has lasted, and will last till I die. I owe that to them.