I have a weakness for comedies starring Diane Keaton. Whether it be Annie Hall or First Wive’s Club, no matter how great or cheesy the film may appear to be, I want to see it. Which is why I wanted to watch Hampstead. I was intrigued to see what a romantic comedy starring Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleason might be like. Both of them are great on their own, but I really wasn’t too sure about them together. They seem such an unlikely duo, but most of us know that there’s nothing more irresistible to screenwriters than an unlikely duo (or trio, or quartet).
The film takes place in Hampstead Heath, hence the title, and focuses on the life of newly widowed American woman Emily Walters (Diane Keaton). She lives in a nice apartment and volunteers at a charity clothing store. Meanwhile, she’s slowly drowning in the complicated financial mess her husband left behind. She spends a lot of her time with women of a certain age who also live in the same apartment building (or flats as they would be called in the UK). They, especially their ringleader, Fiona (Lesley Manville), are very interested in Emily’s comings and goings. Fiona also desperately wants to hook Emily up with all the available men in her life.
“…because this is the type of movie we’re in, Emily and Donald fall in love, much to everyone else’s dismay.”
While helping Fiona get signatures for a petition, Emily wanders down to a tiny ramshackle shack she’s seen through her attic window. The resident of the shack is Donald Horner (Brendan Gleeson), an eccentric hermetic type who lives off the land and doesn’t kowtow to society’s whims. Naturally, because this is the type of movie we’re in, Emily and Donald fall in love, much to everyone else’s dismay.
Hampstead is a perfectly good romantic dramedy. It’s as British as the Queen drinking tea on a Tuesday, so be prepared for a more subtle approach to everything unlike an American comedy with the same subject matter. The funniest, goofiest character in the film is Jason Watkins as James Smythe, an accountant that Fiona wanted Emily to date that Emily leads on for assistance in her financial matters. He’s possibly the biggest nerd on planet Earth. Watkins takes over every scene he is in, and it’s greatly appreciated.
“…making this film even more perfect for someone to eat a pint of ice cream to…”
As for the rest of the movie, it’s not recreating the wheel in any way, shape, or form, but if you appreciate a good Diane Keaton comedy to hold you over until the sequel to Book Club is released, then this movie is perfect for you. I love Brendan Gleeson, but I have seen him in much funnier roles than this one. Donald Horner does show a more sensitive side of Gleeson, that is interesting to see, but I still prefer him in action or drama films. The coolest thing about Gleeson’s character, and in essence, the whole movie is that it’s based on a real person, Henry Hallowes, who squatted in the Heath just as Donald does. The cinematography and production design show us the idyllic nature of the British countryside, thus making this film even more perfect for someone to eat a pint of ice cream to after Bridget Jones’ Diary or as a pick me up after Terms of Endearment. It doesn’t carry much more weight than that, and that’s fine. Not all films are required to do so. I can’t help but wonder if a different approach to Henry Hallowes’ story might have been more satisfying, though.
Hampstead (2019) Written by Robert Festinger. Directed by Joel Hopkins. Starring Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson, James Norton, Lesley Manville, Hugh Skinner, Adeel Akhtar, Simon Callow, Phil Davis, Alistair Petrie, Jason Watkins
6 out of 10 stars