TL;DR – Beautiful and charming, a fun look into that quirkiness that is classic Britannia, a great date night film
Score – 3 out of 5 stars
What happens when your life is falling into a hole of others making, what happens when the world is against you and you just want to be left in peace, what happens when worlds collide, this is the story of Hampstead. Hampstead is part romantic comedy, part comment of the class divisions in Brittan, and part legal drama, but it is all heart.
So to set the scene, Emily Walters (Diane Keaton) is a widow living near Hampstead Heath a park in the greater City of London. While she puts up a good façade for her nosy neighbours like Fiona (Lesley Manville) and her son Philip (James Norton), she is reeling from a life she doesn’t know anymore. One day she is she is in her attic finding things to sell to help her with the financial mess her cheating dead husband left her when, through some binoculars, she spied Donald Horner (Brendan Gleeson) bathing in the river. This sets off a chain of events as she also spies the developers that are trying to kick Donald off where he had been living, a shack in the woods on the grounds of an old abandoned hospital. So in today’s review, we are going to look at the things that did work, some of the odd moments, and a couple of things that didn’t, so let’s jump into the world of Hampstead.
From the very start of the film, the one thing is clear is that this was going to be charming as all get up. From the gardens and the town, it is a picture perfect representation of London during spring. Part of my family is from Britain, however, I’ve never really felt compelled to go back and visit the old country, but as I watched these beautiful vistas something deep within called out to me, the siren song of Yorkshire pudding, Cornish Pasties, mint jelly, vinegar on everything … wait no I just cured myself. For better or worse, this is the tone they continue with throughout the film, but thankfully it never gets too sickly sweet.
At the heart of what makes Hampstead work is the chemistry and commitment that Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson have. Casting Diane Keaton was a great choice because not only is she a fantastic actor that nails exasperation, but because she is American, it gives the movie a way of subtly separating her from the other snarky old women that live in the building, as well as removing her for the common class stereotypes that you would have likely seen. Brendan Gleeson has such power to project his voice, and this is a role that needed that kind of bombastic energy. But where things really start hitting off is when Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson start interacting, they are both such consummate professionals that watching them play off each other is a joy to see. They also bring such different energies to the role, and this helps to make the narrative shine. The story itself is relatively simple, but that’s not actually an issue, because it removes a lot of those other parts that would normally clutter up the narrative.
Part of the undercurrent in the film is the notion of class in Great Brittan, you see it in how characters act, in the legal struggle, and if you missed it, they have a nice big statue of Karl Marx there for you. This is one of the aspects that might be lost a bit on the wider foreign audience, but it goes to the heart of what a lot of people are experiencing in Great Brittan today. But while this is a very British setting, there is something at the heart of it all that transcends cultures. This is the notion of the underdog, the person who has everything going against them but still manages to claw a victory through sheer stubborn gumption and the belief that they are right. In that way, Hampstead very much fits in the same realm as Slumdog Millionaire and The Castle.
However, while Hampstead is an enjoyable film, it is not a perfect one, indeed there are a couple of small issues here, and to look at that we are going to have [SPOILERS] on for the rest of this review. There is a point at the end where the story creates some artificial tension, that really feels forced, and kind of goes against everything they were setting up beforehand. There are some odd moments, like when we detour from the story to go look at some marbles, which have their own complicated history that does not get brought up. As well as this, the scenes with the accountant jump all over the place with the tone. Also sadly life is very rarely as comforting as the movies present, which is important because Hampstead is inspired by real events and the life of Harry Hallowes. There was no American love interest, and there was no happy ending, as he did in a nursing home after finding it too hard to make it through the winters in his shed. Now given Hampstead is inspired by and not even claiming to be based on, the life of Harry, it sidesteps a lot of the debates about fictionalising a real person’s life, but it does raise the question should we consistently fictionalise the more unpleasant aspects of real lives for the entertainment of others.
In the end, do we recommend Hampstead, yes we do, it is a beautiful film with real heart, and that’s not something you see a lot of these days in that genre. It is also so wonderfully British that it is going to be a kick for anyone that has ever lived in Brittan, or like me, grew up on a heavy dose of British TV.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Hampstead
Directed by – Joel Hopkins
Written by – Robert Festinger
Inspired by – The life of Harry Hallowes
Music by – Stephen Warbeck
Cinematography by – Felix Wiedemann
Edited by – Robin Sales
Starring – Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson, James Norton, Lesley Manville, Jason Watkins, Alistair Petrie, Hugh Skinner, Peter Singh & Stavros Demetraki
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: na; Germany: na; New Zealand: PG; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: na