Hampstead

 

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A cloying and whimsical romcom piggybacks off the true story of a vagrant who built his own home on Hampstead Heath. 

   
Hampstead

A special relationship: Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson

 

Why is it that films named after areas of London always star Americans? Think Notting Hill with Julia Roberts, Wimbledon with Kirsten Dunst and, er, Waterloo with Rod Steiger. Now we have Hampstead starring Diane Keaton, a tourism-friendly romcom aimed at the grey dollar. Inspired by the story of Henry ‘Harry’ Hallowes, Joel Hopkins’ film takes a true tale and manipulates it into an icky feel-good thing that will give Ken Loach sleepless nights. The outline follows the stand a homeless man takes against property developers after building himself a ramshackle home in a wild patch of Hampstead Heath in North London. As the authorities attempt to evict him, a potentially rousing David and Goliath scenario unfolds, given colour by the locals who either resent him or rally to his cause.

 

Here Harry is renamed Donald, so as to feed his media moniker of ‘Donald Tramp’ and is portrayed as an erudite, learned Grizzly Adams type played by Brendan Gleeson, the better to up-end audience expectations. But nothing rings true as the English stereotypes are wheeled out to give some form of credibility to the central character of Emily, through whose eyes we view the narrative. An intelligent and principled but scatty American played by Diane Keaton – well, la-dee-da – Emily is beset by grotesques, including a rat-like accountant (Jason Watkins) with altogether unhealthy motives, even if he is 21 years her junior.

 

From the outset, Stephen Warbeck's glutinous score foreshadows what is to come as a playful kite on Hampstead Heath toys with the film’s opening credits. And the shots of Hampstead’s cosy cobbled byways, steps and boutique shops will make the heart of every Anglophile flutter with orgiastic gratification. But all is not well for Emily Walters as she surveys the leak in her ceiling and copes with disruptive customers at the charity shop where she works as a volunteer.

 

There are some nice comic touches and a few good lines (courtesy of the American scenarist Robert Festinger), before the film settles down to its agenda of presenting lost souls trying to connect in the unlikeliest of circumstances. We learn that Emily is drowning “in a sinkhole of debt,” while Donald the Tramp lives a life of bucolic contentment in the heart of London. Of course, nobody is who they seem and we really mustn’t judge. But there are do-gooders at hand and the even the iciest veneer is ready to melt. What follows isn’t so much unpredictable as improbable and will prove nauseous to some. The less demanding might warm to the sitcom histrionics and enjoy the performances of Keaton and Gleeson, but it really is a missed opportunity.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson, Lesley Manville, Jason Watkins, James Norton, Simon Callow, Adeel Akhtar, Alistair Petrie, Phil Davis, Hugh Skinner, Rosalind Ayres, Peter Singh.

 

Dir Joel Hopkins, Pro Robert Bernstein and Douglas Rae, Screenplay Robert Festinger, Ph Felix Wiedemann, Pro Des Sarah Kane, Ed Robin Sales, Music Stephen Warbeck, Costumes Liza Bracey.

 

Ecosse Films/Scope Pictures-Entertainment One.

102 mins. UK. 2017. Rel: 23 June 2017. Cert. 12A.