Film Review: Hampstead (2017)

Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson bring ample charm to Hampstead but some seriously poor writing fatally lets it down

“If we wait too long we shrivel up like some imported apricot sitting on the shelf in Waitrose”

Having enjoyed Joel Hopkins’ last two films (Last Chance Harvey and The Love Punch), I had little fear going into his 2017 movie Hampstead, not least because it was an opportunity to see Diane Keaton once again. But where his early work epitomised his surefooted handle on the bittersweet nature of love and life, particularly for those advancing in age, Hampstead comes off as a much frothier affair, aiming for Richard Curtis-esque charm and landing far short.

Based on the real story of a homeless man, Harry Hallowes, who used squatter’s rights to eventually claim ownership of a small plot on Hampstead Heath where he had set up camp 12 years before. Here, Brendan Gleeson plays the renamed Donald and Keaton plays the recently widowed Emily who, experiencing her own – though vastly different – housing issues, finds an instant connection with Donald, initially through a pair of binoculars she spies on him with from the attic apartment in the townhouse where she lives. 

An excrutiatingly improbable romance develops between the pair and pushes aside any inkling that there might be an adult discussion about the inequities at every level of the London housing market. Obviously, that way a rom-com does not lie but there’s just something so weird and essentially icky about the way in which this relationship is constructed at a skin-deep level and defended to the hilt, much to the dismay of Emily’s fellow apartment-dwellers.

That crew is led by the marvellous Lesley Manville, in delightfully withering mode, and the ensemble in the film throughout is pretty decent. Hugh Skinner bumbles as per, Deborah Findlay nods thoughtfully, Jason Watkins is great value for money and Phil Davis is gloweringly good late on. But overall, Hampstead is definitely more miss than hit, asking too much of its actors to compensate for some seriously deficient characters.

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