Hampstead (2017)

  • Time: 102 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama | Romance
  • Director: Joel Hopkins
  • Cast: Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson, James Norton


An American widow finds unexpected love with a man living wild on Hampstead Heath when they take on the developers who want to destroy his home.


  • Considering the aching poignancy that suffused his previous film, Last Chance Harvey, director Joel Hopkins’ latest effort Hampstead comes as a bit of a disappointment. The letdown is somewhat leavened by his two leads, both of whom bring their individual charm to this slender silver-years romantic comedy.

    Inspired by actual events, the film stars Diane Keaton as Emily Walters whose style, as with most of Keaton’s characters, has been obviously influenced by Keaton’s most famous role, Annie Hall. An American living in the posh North London suburb, the recently widowed Emily fills her days working for a charity shop and listening to how useless she is at love – via her busybody neighbour and alleged friend Fiona (Lesley Manville) – and life in general via her strapping son Philip (James Norton), who is especially concerned about how she’s going to take care of herself when her finances are dwindling.

    Though Fiona insists on killing two birds with one stone by setting the reluctant Emily up with a very amorous accountant named James Smythe (a highly amusing Jason Watkins), Emily’s interest is more piqued by Donald (Brendan Gleeson), a gruff loner who has been squatting on Hampstead Heath for the past 17 years. She’s even more drawn to him when she learns that he’s being evicted from the shed that he’s made his home. Though he’s wary of being made into her pet cause du jour, he eventually relents into letting her help him fight the eviction notice. Naturally, romantic frissons begin to surface.

    Keaton’s delightful loopiness is always welcome and it’s particularly heartening to see Gleeson as a romantic lead, but their pairing isn’t entirely successful. They spark well enough but, if one roots for them to have a happy ending, it’s mostly due to the actors’ playing and plot machinations rather than any genuine investment in their future together. Nevertheless, one can’t deny that Hampstead is warm, inviting and open-hearted and a solid cinematic postcard for Hampstead. Though its comic moments elicit mild chuckles rather than guffaws, the reveal of Smythe’s ukulele-playing skills is an absolute highlight.

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  • “Do you drink too much all the time?
    No, only when I drink.”

    You’re lying relaxed on your sofa on a Saturday night and you don’t have the energy to do something useful? Well, that will certainly not change after watching this romantic comedy which takes place in the vicinity of Hampstead Heath. The whole film proceeds at a leisurely pace and tells about the strange relationship between Emily (Diane Keaton) and Donald (Brendan Gleeson). Emily is a middle-aged widow living in a respectable appartment opposite Hampstead park. Donald is a wayward tramp living in a little self-build shack in that same park, growing his own potatoes and carrots and fishing for lunch in the local pond. The two relate to eachother as yin and yang. Emily is having money troubles after the death of her husband, who left her a mountain of debt. She works voluntarily in an Oxfam clothing store and is reasonably socially engaged. Donald, on the other hand, never worries about money and wants everyone to leave him alone. In his eyes, the rest of the community consists of money-minded egocentric know-it-alls who do not understand and appreciate his wilful lifestyle.

    The advantage of films such as “Hampstead”, is that you won’t be flabbergasted by it. You get a warm and blissful feeling from it and your brain cells are spared an exhausting effort. My philosophizing about “being amazed while watching a movie” (read my review about “Paddington 2” once again) isn’t applicable to this film, because there’s really nothing to be surprised about. The choice of its title is quite obvious. And when Emily looks unconsciously with binoculars through the attic window and thus discovers the bare belly of a bathing Donald, you immediately know what the tree-hugging activist is planning to do. What follows is a succession of endearing conversations and predictable misunderstandings. Fortunately, it doesn’t lapse into romantic excesses and we are simply witnessing a burgeoning friendship between two individuals who have their own personal problems. One person fails to make ends meet financially and her gossiping high-society neighbor tries to link her to an accountant. The other is urged to leave his premises or he’ll be expecting some legal proceedings. Well, it’s clear from the beginning how this will resolve itself.

    I really enjoy the acting of Diane Keaton. In every film she’s the personification of a very cozy, hugely affectionate and huggable elderly lady. Such a granny who looks immensely friendly, helpful and old-fashioned. And on that level, she’s of course the correct choice to play the character Emily in this not so surprising film. Because to be honest, it seems as if Diane Keaton always plays the same movie character. I’m sure Diane Keaton is a similar person in real life and thus plays herself all the time. Brendan Gleeson, on the other hand, was a joy to watch. A bearded garden gnome who’s sometimes a real old grumbler but next shows he also owns a caring heart. Even though they look like an odd couple and it feels as if they don’t really belong together, I can understand that someone like Emily can succumb to the sometimes hidden charms of Donald.

    Apparently the story is based on true facts but some things are a bit romanticized and made up. The whole thing reminded me of “5 Flights up” where Diane Keaton also had a real estate problem together with Morgan Freeman. “Hampstead” is like some household tasks. You do not necessarily have to do them, but if you can bring yourself to carry them out, it won’t hurt either. So it’s not required to watch this average, easy-going romantic comedy. But if you do, it won’t seem as if you’ve ruined your precious time.

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