Grace (Annette Bening) is needy and Edward (Bill Nighy) is distant. They are a longtime married couple slogging through a dull, lifeless marriage. When Edward decides he can’t give Grace what she wants as they approach their 29th anniversary and he will leave for another woman, their divorce drama plays out, pulling in their single adult son, Jamie (Josh O’Connor).
She quotes poetry and he combs through books for his classes in their well lived-in cottage by the sea. Their grown son, Jamie, rarely visits, and they all interact with such restraint that you know some things are simmering underneath the polite and genteel façade.
This is a British movie sorely in need of some “oomph.” And that doesn’t mean more sweeping shots of the coastal cliffs.
Well-intentioned, though, this look at a disintegration of a marriage and its ripple effects isn’t as finessed as the superior “Marriage Story” or even “Shoot the Moon” starring Albert Finney and Diane Keaton 30-some years ago.
Director-writer William Nicholson, who was Oscar-nominated for his screenplays of “Gladiator” and Shadowlands,” has adapted his 1989 play, “The Retreat from Moscow,” into a very stiff movie.
While the performers are good delving into their characters, a pall of melancholy hangs over what is a nice-looking film. Bening’s accent wavers, and both characters are annoying as their selfishness is exposed.
And the subplot with the son’s inability to sustain a close relationship needed more development. O’Connor, who played Prince Charles in the crown, is strong and deserved a better-written character.
The movie just goes through the motions and fails to sustain any momentum.