Joel Hopkins’ Hampstead, for all of its flaws, remains an uncynical romantic comedy that fails to subvert expectations – appeasing its target audience no doubt, and pissing off anyone else. To walk that tightrope tonally, and maintain a sincerity amidst the mawkish tendencies is not an easy balance to get right, and while Hopkins struggles in that regard, what we’re left with is still a production with its heart in the right place.
Based on a true story – but in no means a biopic – Diane Keaton takes on the role of Emily, an American widow who is under scrutiny from the local community to help petition for a new block of flats to be built across the road. Unwittingly going along with it, despite knowing her picturesque view from her window will be taken away – she becomes fervently against the cause when she spots Donald (Brendan Gleeson) living in a shack he built himself, in the middle of Hampstead Heath. Fascinated by this man’s inclination to live off the land, she befriends this unique individual, and upon getting to know him and becoming romantically entwined, her life is enriched by his outlook on life, as a free-spirited man who refuses to adhere to societal norms.
The film just about works thanks to its two lead roles, with Hopkins evidently allowing Keaton to inject her own affable personality traits into the role of Emily. It seems he even gave her the licence to choose her own wardrobe, with the actresses’ trademark beret making an appearance too. It works too that we adopt her perspective for she represents something of an outsider, allowing us to peer into this community with a barbed viewpoint, which is essential when casting our eye over the ever-changing landscape of London, and the gentrification of the city. Her cause can be difficult to invest in at times though, for there’s a distinct lack of sympathy for the role. Emily is going through a tough time financially, and though Hopkins strives to make this a plot device to get the audience onside – and while we wouldn’t wish for anyone to lose their home – the property she lives in is probably worth around £10million. She’ll be fine.
Formulaic and cliched at the best of times, thankfully Keaton’s endearing qualities come through, while Gleeson offers something very similar too, as both actors are just so incredibly likeable. Which is handy, because at times, the film really isn’t.