A look at London's boho canal lifestyles in ANCHOR AND HOPE

Director: Carlos Marques-Marcet

15 | 1h 53min | Comedy , Drama , Romance | 28 September 2018 (UK)

Now on DVD and VOD.

RATING: ★★★★☆

I enjoyed this bittersweet and very millennial-angsty gay drama from writer-director Carlos Marques-Marcet (10.000 Km) and co-writer Jules Nurrish, which does triple duty as both a good-natured satire on London hipster lifestyles, a more serious-minded look at the emotional tangles of surrogacy and adoption that can face a gay couple, and a salute to the lovely canals of north London’s Lea Valley area. It also serves as a sort of Game of Thrones reunion, as stars Natalia Tena and Oona Chaplin both served on the hit HBO series.

Tena and Chaplin are Kat and Eva, underemployed 30-somethings (Kat is a boat repairer, Eva teaches dance) who are in a longstanding relationship and share a very boho houseboat that they keep moored at various spots along the Lea Valley canal (the idea of setting the movie on the London canal actually arose from the fact that actress Natalia Tena lives in a boat-house there). Life seems pretty sweet when we first drop in on the couple during one summer: hot sex, pub lunches in picturesque watering holes and too much red wine after, and drifting up and down the canals in the glorious sunshine make up their day to day. A more painfully north London liberal lifestyle you could not find. It soon becomes clear though that, with both women being in their thirties, the knotty question of children has started to infiltrate this blissful setup. Or to be more precise, it has become an issue for Eva; Kat turns out to be far less certain that a baby will strengthen their bond, fearing their perfect bohemian setup will be lost forever. Eva convinces Kat to let BFF from Spain, Roger, provide some donor sperm for a bit of DIY insemination whilst he crashes on their couch. But things get way messier than expected

Tena and Chaplin are an engaging duo, more than adequately transmitting the shared physical attraction and sense of humour that have kept Eva and Kat’s relationship going so long, but also fleshing out the subtle differences between them; differences in temperament and confidence that the question of surrogacy starts to turn into chasms. The two also provide a few charming comedy beats where there is some self-aware mocking at just how North London queer-liberated-millennial they’ve become, even down to Kat staying in deep mourning over the death of her cat to Eva having a New Age mother Germaine (Geraldine Chaplin, Oona’s mother in real life) prancing about on the mainland, although she, ironically, turns out to be the sole warning voice about how being a 21st century metropolitan still might not mean you get to bypass all the emotional pitfalls of using someone you are close to as a sperm donor. The way Roger disrupts things is also well-handled. David Verdageur’s full-throttle performance as the louche Roger doesn’t peg him as a looming threat initially; he comes off as a slightly irritating, but basically well-intentioned man-child who is maybe not as respectful of personal space and the need for peace and quiet as Eva might like. But once Eva does get pregnant, Roger - who is really more an old friend of Kat than both women (to emphasise this Kat and Roger speak in Spanish when Eva isn’t around, both characters and actors have Spanish roots) - becomes an increasingly awkward figure who just can’t find a groove to fit into. 

No matter what Roger does (and he doesn’t come off as the most self-aware chap) he just keeps applying pressure to the cracks in Eva and Kat’s dynamic. Eva in particular finds any sign that Roger is getting too invested in the baby alarming; whether it is his dorky crying over the ultrasound scan or his knee-jerk decision to move to London to ‘help out’. Beyond feeling her space is being invaded by a competitor, Eva’s take is that Roger’s over-investment subconsciously gives Kat the excuse she needs to continue to tune out, rather than work harder to overcome her fears about making the pregnancy work. But the film keeps it an open question as to whether Roger leaving would solve the problem. Maybe Kat and Eva are just paying the price for not asking the big question sooner? Perhaps it is not a hugely original approach to have these be the questions that come up for Eva and Kat, but the performers sell the emotional reality.

Beyond the free-flowing performances, the increasingly edgy dynamic between the trio, and the poignant discussion of the ‘big’ themes that the film gently weaves into the narrative, Anchor and Hope is a welcome chance to soak up the pleasant character and diversity of the London canals. The natural beauty of the environment, lensed by director of photography Dagmar Weaver-Madsen, reinforces how the peaceful waterways and the cosy houseboat grew into an ideal that Kat and Eva have both come to rely on; an escape from the hubbub of dry land where nothing seems to make as much sense. But the boat is also a cramped space that might just have no room for three.

You can check out some of the stills showcasing the London canals below.

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Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.