Dir. Joel Hopkins. UK, 2017, 103 mins | Cast: Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson | US | Romcom | 104min
HAMPSTEAD is one of London’s oldest villages where ‘quaint’ boutiques (think Foxtons and Oxfam?) thrive a stone’s throw from Dickensian cottages and palatial mansions cushioned in the verdant lushness of the Heath. Joel Hopkins’ romcom follow-up to Last Chance Harvey (2008) is based on the true story of a modern day hermit (Harry Hallowes) who gained legal entitlement to his self-built hovel between Hampstead’s Kenwood House and The Ponds. But that’s where reality ends.
Hopkins’ fluffy film is full of middle-aged cyphers floating around in a fantasy world of the Seventies where they meet for coffee mornings and discuss worthy causes. But in the real place, this lot passed on decades ago to be replaced by the likes of Hugh Skinner’s fundraising nerd or smiling Romanians selling the Big Issue. Despite its champagne socialist credentials the village is now mostly home to wealthy Oligarchs, chic Chinese diplomats and suave Italian bankers, a place where blacked-out Range Rovers jossle with builders’ lorries narrowly – avoiding the double Bugaboo prams.
But back to the film, which has Diane Keaton’s awkward American widow spying Brendan Gleeson’s grizzly bohemian gent in his shack moments from her Heath-side home. Although the chemistry here is seriously lacking, Hopkins persuades us that the shabby chic Donald fancies Keaton as she scuttles around in her charity shop like a ditzy Victorian street urchin on speed. Lesley Manville is hilarious as her bossy neighbour Fiona, tasked with organising neighbourhood affairs. She is a character straight out of Country Casuals in Tewksbury or Harrogate – not Hampstead, I’m afraid.
The narrative torpor plods on as our twee ‘lovers’ fight for Donald’s right to stay in his home, keeping those nasty developers at bay. Meanwhile, Keaton’s financial woes are being sweatily massaged by Jason Watkins’ obsequious ginger accountant who would be more at home in a market town like Utoxeter than this savvy North London corner. The third ginger character here is Keaton’s son Philip (James Norton), who has no personality whatsoever despite being rather pleased with himself.
Poetic licence apart – and watching this is like sharing your home with a bunch of weird aliens – HAMPSTEAD could be forgiven if it were funny. But Robert Festinger’s script teeters from crass to cringeworthy, with no laughs to be had at all and a score that jars. The filmmakers have captured the rural idyll of the location: Parrokeets chirrup and roses bloom in the perpetual sunshine that beams, between cloudbursts, through the Oak tree’d lanes.
Will the ‘Notting Hill’ affect come to Hampstead as a result of this jaunty romcom? This American treatment will probably have the reverse effect on the village, sending potential buyers desperately in the other direction, amid cries let’s get out of this hellhole. MT
NOW OUT ON RELEASE FROM 23 JUNE 2017