Directed by Joel Hopkins.
Starring Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson, James Norton, Lesley Manville, Jason Watkins and Phil Davis.
Widow Alice (Diane Keaton) lives in a mansion flat opposite Hampstead Heath when property developers announce their intention to build new apartments. She discovers that, smack bang in the middle of the land they want to develop, there’s a shack, occupied by Donald (Brendan Gleeson). The property company tries to evict him but, as Alice encourages him to fight for his home, she and Donald become closer.
Grey Market Movie Alert! OK, so the words aren’t actually scrawled across the posters for Joel Hopkins’ Hampstead, but they might as well be. It makes no bones about aiming itself at older cinema goers – American tourists will go for it as well – but it has aspirations in other, potentially more thoughtful, directions. And they’re decidedly mis-judged. It just doesn’t know when to stop.
Had it stuck to being a silver rom-com, it would probably have got away with it. Diane Keaton’s Alice is a widow living in a mansion block opposite Hampstead Heath and she spends much of her time resisting the attempts of snobby neighbour Karen (Lesley Manville) to find her a new boyfriend. She also has money problems, so Karen fixes her up with creepy accountant, James (Jason Watkins), who clearly takes a shine to her. It’s not mutual. Even though he meets with the approval of her friends, her eventual choice, Donald (Brendan Gleeson) – known to the locals at Donald Tramp (geddit?!) – isn’t at all what they have in mind. Like it’s any of their business…
So the set up with her fighting off James and fighting for Donald to keep his home is quite sweet – almost like a Werther’s. Sugary, with a soft centre and dangerously close to sickly. It avoids that by the skin of its teeth, but the sweetness – tweeness, even – extends beyond the plot. There’s the portrayal of Hampstead itself, all quaint cobbled streets and chocolate box houses: in fact, the whole look of London, English and the countryside in general. There are times when it’s more like a tourism video dressed up as a drama to sell to the US, starring an Oscar-winning member of Hollywood royalty, a bearded Irishman and a clutch of very English supporting actors.
Its attempts at an environmental message, or even a social one about the homeless, are shallow. Apparently Donald has been a hermit for a number of years: certainly he’s lived in the shack for 17 years, but he shows no signs of the ill effects of living rough and very few people know where he lives. Believe that if you will. There’s a moment when Alice points out to him that they’re not living in a fairy tale. But they are, complete with villains in the shape of property developers and the traditional style of ending.
Neither Keaton or Gleeson are especially stretched in their roles and happily stroll through them, never venturing close to the border of their comfort zones. Their characters aren’t especially well-developed – Gleeson’s in particular has a feeble back story that cries out for something more. And, in choosing a ludicrously expensive beret, Keaton turns herself into something approximating Annie Hall’s grannie. The only relief comes in a two scene cameo from Phil Davis as a cantankerous so-and-so who injects a note of welcome humour to proceedings.
Hampstead has a certain charm but that doesn’t prevent it from being nothing more than a piece of froth. It’s an undemanding way to while away an hour and a half. Unless you have something better to do. And you probably have.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★