You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Hampstead’

Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson aren't an obvious match; despite their combined lovability, this slender romcom doesn't prove otherwise.

Joel Hopkins
Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson, Lesley Manville, Jason Watkins, James Norton, Hugh Skinner, Phil Davis, Adeel Akhtar, Peter Singh, Brian Protheroe, Will Smith, Alex Gaumond, Alistair Petrie, Deborah Findlay, Rosalind Ayres.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5153236/

It’s a situation that has flummoxed many a casual matchmaker. You have two single friends — both sweet, smart, eminently dateable people — whom you’re determined to bring together. Yet when they come face-to-face over dinner, there’s no spark, no lighting-up of the eyes, just amiable, slightly awkward propriety: It turns out these two fine catches have nothing in common but your own affection for them. The cinematic equivalent of this frustrating scenario unfolds in “Hampstead,” a gentle, attractively appointed and phonier-than-thou Britcom in the Richard Curtis mold, in which the individually delightful Brendan Gleeson and Diane Keaton try their damnedest to convince us they’re made for each other.  Their odd, ensuing shuffle might modestly engage the “gray pound” audience on home turf, though Stateside prospects for this Weinstein Co. release are dimmer: At any rate, residents of the film’s eponymous North London locale needn’t fear a tourist rush akin to the Notting Hill invasion of 1999.

That the film’s two lovable stars never quite click may come down to miscalculated star chemistry, but it’s hard to tell with a thin, too-cute screenplay (by U.S. scribe Robert Festinger, several thousand miles in all senses from his Oscar-nominated work on “In the Bedroom”) that plays to neither actor’s wryest or wonkiest strengths. As a widowed American expat socially and financially adrift in Hampstead’s leafy, eye-wateringly posh cobbled lanes, Keaton dons her signature androgynous “Annie Hall” duds throughout, which only underlines how much less endearingly idiosyncratic the character wearing them is by comparison. Meanwhile, as the crusty but gold-hearted Irish squatter she takes up first as her personal cause, and then as something rather more personal than that, Gleeson plays along with a winning brogue and a bemused twinkle, his most soulful actorly complexities scarcely tapped.

For director Joel Hopkins — at least on better form here than in 2013’s rickety heist comedy “The Love Punch” — “Hampstead” is a clear attempt to recapture the Transatlantic sparkle of his 2008 charmer “Last Chance Harvey,” in which Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman made low-key lonelyhearts magic in the English capital. Yet that film (written, to far more persuasive effect, by Hopkins himself) etched entire lives’ worth of heartache into its brief encounter; here, there’s precious little sense of the personal history that has led Emily (Keaton) and Donald (Gleeson) into their respective ruts.

For the last 17 years, we are told, the free-living Donald has been camping out illegally in the verdant thickets of London’s vast Hampstead Heath park, building himself the kind of homely shack that even Beatrix Potter might deem overly twee. Festinger’s script is inspired by the true-life story of Harry Hallowes, the Heath squatter ultimately granted the deed to his multi-million-pound plot in a headline-making 2007 court case; Hallowes’ storied past of hard knocks and homelessness, however, is tidily left out. Emily, on the other hand, is a wholly fictitious creation, and just as sketchily imagined. We meet her a year after the death of her philandering husband, finances dwindling as she whiles away her days as a charity shop volunteer, her social life seemingly limited to unwelcome interventions by her busybody neighbor Fiona (Lesley Manville, valiantly reaching for nuance in a plummy caricature), her half-interested adult son (James Norton) and her timidly lecherous, ukulele-strumming pro bono accountant (Jason Watkins, manfully leading the film’s creepiest subplot).

Only in a sudden, loopy graveside rant to her dead spouse do we get a flash of how Emily’s life has played to this point: When Fiona admonishes her not to “shrivel up like some imported apricot sitting on the shelf in Waitrose,” one wonders if her married years were really any juicier. Yet a chance sighting of Donald’s rustic dwelling across the road from her plush Victorian apartment piques Emily’s curiosity; when she catches wind of the authorities’ plan to evict him in favour of a luxury townhouse development, she resolves to fight his corner, whether he likes it or not. Like it he doesn’t at first, but the Keaton formula of gumption, goofiness and crumpled pin-stripe suits can only be resisted for so long. Soon enough, they’re making the kind of genteel Sunday-afternoon whoopee that doesn’t require either party to remove their calico shirt.

There are whispers here of satirical protest against the spreading, much-decried gentrification of the Big Smoke, but “Hampstead’s” concerns are cosier ones — with even its stray moments of darkened mood hurried along by Stephen Warbeck’s ever-present, maddeningly dainty score. Gleeson and Keaton, for their part, play this bourgeois rags-to-tweed fairytale with such good humor that one is fleetingly able to overlook the frank bogusness of the mechanics that bring them together. There’s pleasure to be had in hanging out with these two wily, weathered actors, even as the flyaway characters they’re playing fail to illuminate each other in any way. “Are you judging me?” Emily asks the taciturn Irishman early on in their courtship. “I’m trying to, but you’re not giving me much to work with,” he replies — one of the quicker lines in Festinger’s script, but also one that essentially gets at this brightly mounted, perkily performed and stubbornly sexless film’s key struggle.

Film Review: 'Hampstead'

Reviewed at eOne screening room, London, June 13, 2017. Running time: 103 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) A Weinstein Company (in U.S.)/eOne (in U.K.) release of a Motion Picture Capital presentation in association with Silver Reel of an Ecosse Films production. (International sales: Cornerstone Films, London.) Producers: Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae. Executive producers: Leon Clarance, Mark Woolley, Laure Vaysse, Jo Monk, Deepak Nayar, Alison Thompson, Mark Gooder, Claudia Bluemhuber, Ian Hutchinson, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, David C. Glasser. Co-producers: Paul Ritchie, Matt Delargy, James Saynor, Geneviève Lemal, Nicky Stean.

Crew: Director: Joel Hopkins. Screenplay: Robert Festinger. Camera (color, widescreen): Felix Wiedemann. Editor: Robin Sales. Music: Stephen Warbeck.

With: Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson, Lesley Manville, Jason Watkins, James Norton, Hugh Skinner, Phil Davis, Adeel Akhtar, Peter Singh, Brian Protheroe, Will Smith, Alex Gaumond, Alistair Petrie, Deborah Findlay, Rosalind Ayres.

More Film

  • First-Look Image Revealed for ‘Monday,’ Starring

    First-Look Image Revealed for ‘Monday,’ Starring ‘Captain America’s’ Sebastian Stan

    The first-look image from Greek director Argyris Papadimitropoulos’ “Monday,” starring Sebastian Stan – best known for “I, Tonya” and the “Captain America” movies – and “Colette’s” Denise Gough, has been released. Protagonist Pictures will launch international sales on the pic in Berlin. “Monday” follows the story of Mickey (Stan) and Chloe (Gough), two Americans in [...]

  • The Wedding

    Film Review: 'The Wedding'

    Two considerations need to exist side by side when discussing “The Wedding,” the debut feature of Egyptian-American multihyphenate Sam Abbas. One involves the film itself, a dull slice of Lower Manhattan mumblecore about a heterosexual New York couple fitfully planning their wedding until she discovers his gay dalliance. The other, getting the lion’s share of [...]

  • The Best Gifts For Film Buffs

    Holiday Gift Guide: The Best Gifts For Film Buffs

    Whether you know a film buff who needs to upgrade their collection, or you just want to upgrade your movie nights at home, here are eight gifts that will cast your favorite flicks in a whole new light. 1. Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema: The Criterion Collection More Reviews Film Review: 'The Wedding' Film Review: 'Malila: The [...]

  • Ansel Elgort The Great High School

    Film News Roundup: Ansel Elgort to Star in 'The Great High School Imposter'

    In today’s film news roundup, Ansel Elgort is going to high school, “Rockaway” gets a release, and “Suspiria” producer Bradley Fischer is honored. CASTING More Reviews Film Review: 'The Wedding' Film Review: 'Malila: The Farewell Flower' Ansel Elgort has come aboard to star in the drama “The Great High School Imposter” for Participant Media and [...]

  • Oscars Oscar Academy Awards Placeholder

    Oscars: Film Academy Narrows the List of Contenders in Nine Categories

    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced shortlists of semi-finalists in nine separate categories. From here, the organization’s separate respective branches will vote to determine nominees, which will be announced along with all other Oscar categories next month. This year marks the first year since 1979 that shortlists have been revealed in [...]

  • Watch Skylar Grey Reenact 'Aquaman' Kiss

    Watch Skylar Grey Reenact 'Aquaman' Kiss Scene With Fiance

    The melody from “Everything I Need,” the song Skylar Grey penned for “Aquaman” is used in the scene — spoiler alert — in which the titular hero (Jason Momoa) and Mera (Amber Heard) kiss while an epic battle rages on around them. Grey and her fiance Elliott Taylor reenacted the kiss in a somewhat similar [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content