There’s a difference, when watching a piece of drama, between knowing what is going to happen next because it is so cliched that you’ve seen it a dozen times already, and knowing what a character is about to say because that’s just the way that we as human beings interact.
The action and dialogue in Anchor and Hope fall into the latter category, where, as a viewer, you are almost reacting along with the characters themselves, rather than after the fact.
Written by Jules Nurrish, and Carlos Marques-Marcet who also directs, Anchor and Hope is a sometimes painfully honest human drama about the conflicts between love and desire, intimacy and ambition.Eva (Oona Chaplin) and Kat (Natalia Tena) are lovers, living on a canal boat and traversing the waterways of London. Beginning with the death of a beloved pet cat, we see that this is not a new relationship, that these women are established partners. And Eva wants a baby. But in a same-sex relationship, getting pregnant is slightly more complicated than just deciding to do it. And Kat is really not that into the idea at all.
During a night of heavy drinking to celebrate the arrival of Kat’s friend Roger (David Verdaguer) from Barcelona, Kat soddenly agrees that Roger can be a donor and that she and Eva will go ahead and have a baby together. But it’s not as simple as that. Life never is. What follows is sweet, funny, painful, biting, but more than anything – truthful.
There is little doubt that some reviews will label this as a lesbian drama. It’s not. We know that Kat is a lesbian – Eva says as much – but we don’t know where Eva’s sexuality lies, whether she is gay or bisexual. To label it as a lesbian drama would be to do it a disservice, and – unfortunately – likely lessen its appeal to all those without a specific interest in such things. It is indeed a beautiful and very real portrayal of a same-sex female relationship, with all the tenderness and quirks, habits and frustrations that make any romantic and sexual partnership either work or fail. It shows joy and sweetness in Eva and Kat’s love for one another, the ability to be silly or supportive, and the loneliness and desperation of wanting different things from their life together.
It references the vulgarity of dealing with a partner’s bodily excretions and also the intimacy implicit in that fact. Without the intention of queer-erasure here, Eva and Kat could be any couple, of the same or different sex, because all human relationships boil down to trust, honesty, compromise, and communication, and because human emotions are the same the world over.
The three leads play their tightly-scripted characters to perfection, with Oona Chaplin all stillness and wide-eyed understatement, Natalia Tena as barely held together frustration on the edge of panic, and David Verdaguer as a complex man viewed through a lens of simplicity. Chaplin and Tena are highly credible as a couple, and this is vital in a story such as this. Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of the legendary Charlie Chaplin, and Oona Chaplin’s mother) is also well cast as Eva’s strong-willed and strange mother Germaine, chanting over death and spilling her wine on the floor as an offering. There are few other characters in the film, and the story of necessity focuses on Eva, Kat, and Roger.
At 1 hour and 53 minutes long, Anchor and Hope surprisingly doesn’t feel like a stretch. It is leisurely, sometimes, in the way that drifting along a canal is leisurely – and indeed the very first shot of the film is of a canal boat slowly emerging from the darkness of a tunnel – but it never drags. It is full of ambitiously long and lingering shots that push the idea of slow movement towards a destination, not just on the canals but on the movements and faces of the characters too.
It is full of conflicts and contrasts – movement with stillness, humour with tragedy, the tiny space inside the canal boat with the vastness of the waterways themselves, beauty set against dereliction – and its script and direction work in symbiosis to make a small human drama into an appealing story. Anchor and Hope is a strongly flavoured romantic comedy-drama that will likely have you drawing a breath and shedding a tear at its most intense and honest moments.
Anchor and Hope will be in cinemas from September 28th.