Hope review – sensitive study of the grief that lies behind a cancer diagnosis

Stellan Skarsgård plays a man whose attention has been more focused on his career than his family wrestles with accepting his wife’s terminal illness

Here is an intelligent and civilised film from Norway with two outstanding actors; directed by Maria Sødahl, it’s about love, grief and intimacy and it is conceived at a high creative standard. Yet for me it never quite ignites with the real passion or the real anger that it seems to be gesturing towards.

Andrea Bræin Hovig plays Anja, a successful fortysomething choreographer with an international career, in a relationship with Tomas, played by Stellan Skarsgård, and together they have a large and loving stepfamily. The previous Christmas, Anja had been given the all-clear from lung cancer, but one year on it has grimly returned with a metastasis in her brain; she has to have surgery but with a poor prognosis.

Yet agonisingly, the amount of hope that Anja is given seems to vary with differing doctors. She is told to emphasise this statistically negligible sliver of hope when speaking to her children, but this could simply be encouraging everyone to indulge in magical thinking about the whole thing. And now Tomas says he wants to marry Anja before the operation. Should she take comfort and hope from that? Or is this planned wedding closer to a bizarre funeral ceremony, a gesture that actually underscores Tomas’s solemn belief that she is going to die, and his infuriating reluctance to marry her before that?

This is a valuably intended study of two people who, despite their large family, have been utterly dedicated to their respective careers and have perhaps neglected their emotional lives: and yet there is something, for me, unrevealing about the drama, and almost sentimental about the final moments. But Hovig and Skarsgård are both very good.

• Hope is released on 10 December in cinemas.