Onscreen odd-couple casting doesn’t always work, as we know all too well, but the pairing of Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson in Hampstead does, even though director Joel Hopkins’ film is pretty soppy stuff, and an awfully long way from the true story of the real ‘Hampstead Hermit’ Harry Hallowes.
Diehard devotees of romantic-comedic fluff wouldn’t have it any other way, though. Keaton and Gleeson deliver charming performances, with her as another sweet but slightly nervy type and him as one of his hairy, scary, bear-like chaps with (you saw it coming) a heart of gold.
Keaton’s Emily Walters is a widow living in a fancy apartment block on the edge of Hampstead Heath, and she’s in personal and financial crises since the death of her husband a year ago. Given a hard time by the nosy, snobby residents led by Fiona (played by one of Mike Leigh’s favourite players, Lesley Manville), she’s allowed a lot of establishing scenes and Keaton shines in a most Keaton-esque characterisation, even if her American-in-London status is never really explained.
When she spies Donald Horner (Gleeson), a gruff figure living in a grungy shack on the Heath, who’s being continually ordered to move by nasty real estate stereotypes, she increasingly becomes mixed up in his life and grows to admire his defiance. He’s an “emotional porcupine” though, and while she gets the community united in his fight and the pair become lovers, there are soon plenty of somewhat hoary plot twists to keep them apart. Diane and Brendan play it all so straight that, for a moment, you start thinking —gasp! — that this could be that rare rom-com outing where the leads somehow don’t wind up together.
The sort of movie where the audience demands that it all works out in a particular, creakily traditional way (just like director Hopkins’ best-known previous outing, Last Chance Harvey), this is pleasantly watchable due to its stars and some lovely Heath cinematography, although any film this cynical about real estate development also earns a few extra brownie points.
Rated M. Hampstead is in cinemas now