Hope Gap (M, 100 minutes)
As a film about the power of words, Hope Gap has plenty to say, with a screenplay from Tony- and Oscar-nominated playwright William Nicholson, based on his own 1999 play The Retreat from Moscow.
As a film about the dissolution of a marriage, though, Hope Gap is infinitely less successful despite terrific performances from leads Annette Bening and Bill Nighy.
Editor Grace (Bening) and teacher Edward (Nighy) have been married for 29 years. Outwardly their marriage appears successful, both with their own careers, a lovely cottage home on the windswept English coast, and the love of their son Jamie (Josh O'Connor).
Poor Jamie finds himself squarely between his parents when dad warns Jamie in advance that he is about leave his wife after having had an affair for a year, with plans to move in with his new lover.
While Grace struggles to cope with her devastation, Josh is there for her, attempting some kind of politically neutral ground between his parents, and encouraging his mother to explore the opportunity her work presents for new experiences.
I found Bening's Grace so wildly caustic a character - and that's when she thinks she's happy - that the film lacked balance.
No stranger to working in a British accent, Bening delivers every line from her lower register, dreamily drawling her delivery as Grace, like a studious later-life Lauren Bacall.
Her Grace has a love of poetry and quotes it throughout the film. With that deep delivery, I was reminded throughout of Tilda Swinton's Orlando - another film about the love of poetry - reciting 'Ah, see the Virgin Rose!'
We understand Grace has been talking about a never-finished poetry anthology for some years. Yeats' An Irish Airman Foresees His Death is quoted, and the line "Those I fight I do not hate" applies perfectly to her character.
Grace is a force to be reckoned with, harsh and full of angry judgment, directed particularly at her husband, and because he meekly accepts it - an unusually subtle performance from the usually mannered Nighy - she thinks they are happy.
I found Bening's Grace so wildly caustic a character - and that's when she thinks she's happy - that the film lacked balance. Heck, I wanted to leave her, and I knew I only had to put up with it for 100 minutes.
I just can't see the audience the filmmakers were going for with this film. I mean, how enticing would it be to hear the argument from a friend, "Oh do come to the cinema, you'll really enjoy this one - it's about an unsympathetic scold who drives her husband away and can't understand why he won't come back for more helpings of misery and bitterness."
Last year's Marriage Story walked the same terrain, but felt more of an even two-hander. Even Richard Burton gave as good as he got in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Nicholson's play was based on the breakdown of his own parents' marriage and so if you view the film from the position of the son, thanklessly torn between two people he loves in an unsolvable situation, it may be a richer experience.
O'Connor is the inarticulate Welsh farming lad from God's Own Country, and here he holds his own between two of modern cinema's leading performers.
Nicholson himself directs the film, though it is his cinematographer Anna Valdez-Hanks that gives the production its sense of life, shooting the film with that hint of sea-spray in the air, a salty coastal light. Hope Gap is a particularly picturesque cliff-top spot on the coastal walk between Seaford and Eastbourne on the Southern British coast, with the region lending the film its charm and beauty.