Romantic comedies are usually only targeted at the 20-something market, so it comes as a very welcome and refreshing change to have Hampstead buck that trend. Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson are brilliant in this sweet, humorous and touching tale of second chances set against the backdrop of one of North London’s most beloved areas.
The film is based (at times quite loosely) on the 2007 news story of Harry Hallowes, a recluse who fought for squatter’s rights to a patch of land in Hampstead Heath which he called home. He took the property developers who tried to remove him to court to fight for his right to remain there. In the movie, Brendan Gleeson plays Donald, a cantankerous and fiercely independent man whose home is nestled deep in the Hampstead woods.
Emily, played by Diane Keaton, is a widow who lives in one of the fancy apartments in the area, and whose window overlooks the park. She is experiencing some financial trouble having been lumbered with debt from her late husband. One evening she witnesses Donald being attacked and calls for help. The two soon strike up an unlikely friendship, with Emily enamoured by Donald’s straight-talking, honest personality. Before long she learns about the legal battle he faces to stay where he lives, so she helps rally local support to fight back against the property developers and the council to keep Donald in Hampstead.
The strength of the film lies in the rapport between Gleeson and Keaton. Both are excellent here and deliver performances that sparkle. The supporting cast are fine too with Trollied favourite Jason Watkins stealing his scenes yet again – this time as a smarmy accountant who takes a fancy to Emily. Lesley Manville does well as the busy-body neighbour of Emily’s who has grand designs on her luxury apartment building. Hugh Skinner plays a wet but good-intentioned local activist and James Norton doesn’t have a great deal to do as Emily’s son.
I love London and I love rom-coms so when a film comes along that celebrates both, I’m fully onboard. Anyone that has ever visited Hampstead will love spotting areas that they have frequented in the film. Director Joel Hopkins (who is no stranger to the genre, having worked on The Love Punch and Last Chance Harvey) gives the film a nice visual appeal. He knows how to tap into the beauty of his surroundings and coupled with screen legends like Keaton and Gleeson, effortlessly conjures up scenes that delight.
Hampstead has a few problems with its narrative – the final third of the movie relies a little too heavily on the legal proceedings and more could have explored Donald’s intriguing back-story a bit more, but it’s of little consequence to have a romantic film come along to break the monotonous onslaught of summer blockbusters clogging up your local cinema. Hampstead is an engaging and at times very funny movie with plenty of heart and some wonderful chemistry from both its leads, and taken on face-value, delivers an enjoyable story.
Cast: Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson, James Norton, Simon Callow, Lesley Manville, Alistair Petrie, Jason Watkins, Hugh Skinner Director: Joel Hopkins Writer: Robert Festinger Released By: eOne Certificate: 12A Duration: 102 mins Release Date: 23rd June 2017