Based on a true story, HAMPSTEAD is written by Robert Festinger and directed by Joel Hopkins --- and therein lies the problem. HAMPSTEAD is completely tone deaf regarding its female lead character.
Starring Diane Keaton as Emily and Brendan Gleeson as Donald --- both of whom I admire greatly --- HAMPSTEAD is about Donald’s fight to save his “home”, pitted against those who represent the moneyed establishment. It’s billed as a “sparkling witty, London-set romance”, but it is definitely not that. Festinger’s screenplay is decidedly less than amusing/urbane.
Emily, an American transplant, has been a widow for a year. Her British spouse was a louse, i.e. cheating cad, and a poor money manager. He has left her with a mountain of debt and no visible means of recovery. Her son, Philip (James Norton), is no real help, and even he is planning on relocating abroad with a new job.
He suggests that his mother try to sell a few things to generate some cash. While going through her possessions in her attic, she finds a pair of vintage binoculars. Looking through the attic window, she espies a man bathing in a pond, then follows him to a ramshackle shack on the Heath in Hampstead Village in London.
Unexpectedly, she watches as he is attacked in his doorway and calls the police. The next day, she wanders to his shack and not finding him there, she meanders to the cemetery where her husband is buried. It’s there that she finds Donald and the two ignite a tentative relationship, eventually culminating in a court hearing which will decide his --- and her --- fate.
Keaton and Gleeson are quite capable of executing a romantic comedy, given the right material. The fact that this is based on a news story from 2007 should have made this movie even that much more compelling. But, alas, it does not. The dialogue is stale and predictable. I actually wanted to scream at times. The only amusing scene is Emily yelling at her dead husband’s gravestone, then throwing her boot at it. Even the presence of the most handsome James Norton doesn’t help, as he is given nothing to do.
Donald is living in a real shack, though I’ll admit, it is somewhat charming. But there is no indoor plumbing and the oven is only used as a fireplace. And yet, he cannot understand why Emily won’t live there with him. Trust me, I know men are stubborn --- David --- but to expect that is absurd.
The other unfortunate aspect of HAMPSTEAD is the fact that though both Keaton and Gleeson can be marvelous --- they are not here. They have absolutely no chemistry. In a romantic comedy, a spark between the two lovers is a must, but all we get is a dying ember.
I am vastly disappointed, because those of us of a certain age deserve a really good if not great, light-hearted movie about the possibility of finding new love. Sadly, we will have to keep waiting.
Opinion: Don’t Bother!
It appears HAMPSTEAD was completed in 2017, yet it is now being released for the first time in 2019. Could the reason be that it’s not top shelf material?
Despite a good cast led by Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson, and although it’s based on a true story, I didn’t find anything about the movie very compelling. At first, Donald Horner (Gleeson) and Emily Walters (Keaton) appear to be opposites, but that alone should not be a reason why they can’t become a couple. Perhaps the romantic link between the two came about too fast and too easily.
Donald eventually has his day in court to defend his right to the shack he has called home for 17 years but lacks the proof of “ownership”. When Emily discovers what could be the solution, it should have been a moment of great triumph, but instead falls rather flat. The same sentiment applies when Emily confronts her wealthy neighbor, Fiona (Lesley Manville), whose property developer husband wanted Donald gone so he could build expensive apartments on the land.
HAMPSTEAD isn’t a bad movie, but there are some flaws. When the neighbors throw Emily a surprise birthday party, Donald is discovered skulking up to her attic. Considered an intruder by all the well-to-do party guests, when they confront Donald in the attic, Emily has a golden opportunity to set the record straight. But she loses her courage. That sets up the soon-to-come conversation between her and Donald about their relationship. I would have preferred a different sequence of events.
The funniest line in the film belongs to the judge in Donald’s court hearing who berates the cheering gallery. He bangs his gavel and chides the onlookers that “this is not ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.
Opinion: Mild Wait for DVD