Hampstead – movie review

by Peter Calder / 07 August, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Movies reviews

Emily Walters (Diane Keaton) and Donald Horner (Brendan Gleeson).

Turning the true story of a London squatter into a romcom is no walk in the park.

The most improbable aspect of this most improbable of romantic comedies is that it’s based on fact: a homeless Irishman built a shack and a makeshift camp in the bushes in a corner of Hampstead Heath in the 1980s, claimed squatter’s rights (on the basis of continuous occupation) in 2007 and was awarded title to a half-acre plot of land worth £2 million.

His name was Harry Hallowes, and it’s probably a mercy that he disclaimed any interest in the project and never saw the finished film before he died in February last year; he would have been much perplexed at the ability of the movies to turn an interesting yarn into irredeemable tosh.

Hampstead is plainly seeking to replicate the formula of Richard Curtis’s Notting Hill, though it’s unlikely to have the same effect as that film did on property prices in one of London’s most desirable postcodes.

Here, it’s home to Emily Walters (Diane Keaton), a widow in financial difficulties because she can’t pay the body-corp fees on her flat in a Georgian apartment block (the idea of employment seems not to have occurred to her, but since she’s even more ditzy than, say, Diane Keaton, she’s probably unemployable).

She’s simultaneously beating off the matchmaking efforts of her sniffy neighbour and the lecherous advances of a ukulele-playing accountant (Lesley Manville and Jason Watkins respectively, valiantly shouldering the weight of hackneyed characters).

Then she inexplicably takes an interest in Donald Horner (Brendan Gleeson), the ursine and hirsute squatter whom she has contrived not to notice in the previous decade or two, despite his fondness for fishing and skinny-dipping in the ponds. And when greedy property developers seek to evict him, Emily finds her calling: instructing him in the art of developing the backbone she so plainly lacks. Despite no detectable chemistry, love blossoms.

Keaton’s grating mannerisms aside, there is some serious talent involved here: Joel Hopkins showed his ability to make the genre sing in 2008’s winning transatlantic romcom Last Chance Harvey, thanks largely to the skills of stars Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, and writer Robert Festinger penned the excellent In the Bedroom for Todd Field.

But this film, which ditches the real-life outcome of Hallowes’ story, lurches clunkily from one forced moment to another. As a pitch for the votes of audiences whose starry eyes have not been dimmed by middle age, it never manages so much as a single authentic moment.



This article was first published in the August 5, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


Wild Eyes: The website connecting Kiwi kids with the outdoors again
80369 2017-11-22 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Wild Eyes: The website connecting Kiwi kids with t…

by Sharon Stephenson

A website that creates “backyard missions” for Kiwi kids is dragging digital natives back outdoors.

Read more
New casual fine-diner Lillius opens in Eden Terrace
83392 2017-11-21 09:11:50Z Dining

New casual fine-diner Lillius opens in Eden Terrac…

by Kate Richards

Hospitality pros Shannon Vandy and Fraser McCarthy offer a new fine-dining eatery with a no-waste approach

Read more
Why #MeToo isn't taking off in Asia
83353 2017-11-21 00:00:00Z World

Why #MeToo isn't taking off in Asia

by Anna Fifield

Making sexual harassment unacceptable in Asia will require huge cultural shifts.

Read more
The rise of the social enterprise
83384 2017-11-21 00:00:00Z Business

The rise of the social enterprise

by Sally Blundell

A new breed of business, the social enterprise, is more intent on benefiting the community and protecting the environment than on maximising profit.

Read more
Best for who? The pressure on school leavers to choose university
83358 2017-11-20 15:22:07Z Education

Best for who? The pressure on school leavers to ch…

by Nicole Barratt

Thousands of school leavers will make big decisions this month, but a pressure brewing for years has skewed the decision-making process for some.

Read more
Dominatrix: The Renee Chignell story
83339 2017-11-20 12:58:50Z Crime

Dominatrix: The Renee Chignell story

by Donna Chisholm

Former teen dominatrix Renée Chignell was once NZ's most infamous woman. She talked to Metro in 2009 about one of the country's most notorious murders

Read more
Drugs in small town NZ: 'It's easier to get meth than cannabis'
83326 2017-11-20 11:23:30Z Crime

Drugs in small town NZ: 'It's easier to get meth t…

by Tim Brown

Meth is no longer a big city problem. Otago's sleepy Clutha District is awash with the drug - but there aren't enough addiction services to help.

Read more
Rebecca Gibney’s thriller Wanted is heading for our hills
83324 2017-11-20 11:19:10Z Books

Rebecca Gibney’s thriller Wanted is heading for ou…

by Russell Baillie

The second season of Wanted comes to NZ as the creators find out whether the show has won the International Emmy Award for best drama series.

Read more