Hampstead – movie review

by Peter Calder / 07 August, 2017

Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read

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.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★

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

Latest

Relax at Ambler, a new contemporary cafe-bistro in Point Chev
92505 2018-06-18 09:49:29Z Auckland Eats

Relax at Ambler, a new contemporary cafe-bistro in…

by Kate Milliken

Julien Albe and Matthieu Gosset's new venture Ambler has been a long time coming.

Read more
'Stay safe': The problem with telling women how not to be attacked by a man
92495 2018-06-18 07:09:25Z Social issues

'Stay safe': The problem with telling women how no…

by Bianca Fileborn

The rape and murder of a young comedian in Melbourne this week sparked outrage - fuelled by police telling women to "stay safe".

Read more
Jacinda Ardern's challenging last full week as Prime Minister
92490 2018-06-18 06:10:16Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern's challenging last full week as Pri…

by Jane Patterson

If Jacinda Ardern was hoping for an easy slide into maternity leave, her main coalition partner wasn't helping her.

Read more
Why Melania Trump is the reluctant First Lady
92500 2018-06-18 00:00:00Z World

Why Melania Trump is the reluctant First Lady

by Joanne Black

Even before her recent “disappearance”, US First Lady Melania Trump’s commitment to the role was publicly doubted.

Read more
How to know if you have coeliac disease
92118 2018-06-18 00:00:00Z Health

How to know if you have coeliac disease

by The Listener

Coeliac NZ suggests you consider getting tested if you have some or all of the following symptoms of coeliac disease.

Read more
For coeliac disease sufferers, there's hope of treatment on the horizon
92091 2018-06-18 00:00:00Z Nutrition

For coeliac disease sufferers, there's hope of tre…

by Nicky Pellegrino

As many as 100,000 New Zealanders, many of them undiagnosed, are afflicted by coeliac disease.

Read more
As Jacinda Ardern takes her baby exit - the show goes on
92466 2018-06-17 00:00:00Z Politics

As Jacinda Ardern takes her baby exit - the show g…

by Graham Adams

The PM can happily go off on maternity leave knowing there is a cast of colourful and capable people to fill the gap — most notably Winston Peters.

Read more
The Spanish flu pandemic killed more than WWI. Are we prepared for the next?
92222 2018-06-17 00:00:00Z Health

The Spanish flu pandemic killed more than WWI. Are…

by Sally Blundell

This year marks a century since a flu pandemic killed 9000 NZers. Three more such plagues have swept the world since then – and another is inevitable.

Read more