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David v Goliath in the beautiful British countryside

  • 16 August 2017


Hampstead, 2017. PG Starring: Diane Keaton, Brendon Gleeson, James Norton, Lesley Manville. Directed by Joel Hopkins. Running time: 103 minutes.

One lone man daring to interfere with the evil plans of the rich and powerful: it’s not exactly a new angle, but there are a few scraps of satisfaction to be found in Joel Hopkin’s latest film Hampstead—just not in the realm of originality. It’s a sleepy story that meanders along with a mildly pleasant mediocrity.

If you felt like switching your brain off and staring at beautiful British countryside, this could be worth a view. In the latest performance from acclaimed actors Diane Keaton (playing Emily) and Brendan Gleeson (playing Donald), we learn about hermit Harry Hallowes – a real person who in 2007 won squatter’s rights to the land he’d been self-sufficiently living on in London’s upmarket Hampstead Heath.

Despite its being based on a true story, the film feels like a cutely contrived fantasy ideal for Annie-Hall-nostalgic seniors with a heart condition—due to the fact it is a rom-com that appears to have all the actual surprise or excitement taken out.

Recently widowed, Emily is part of wealthy clique in London’s upmarket suburb of Hampstead (to give some perspective, recent figures state the average house price in the area is £1,545,448). As she faces her rather dull day-to-day activities sans her late husband, she begins to realise the layers of inauthenticity that have plagued her life for some time.

We learn quite quickly that her husband was a philanderer. There are also indicators that, while still alive, he did not plan for their financial security and died leaving a big pile of debt. Meanwhile, Emily’s conservative ‘friends’ are campaigning to have an old hospital knocked down and an apartment block developed at the famous Hampstead Heath.

The group’s ringleader aims to coerce Emily, and the rest of the ‘ladies who lunch’, into supporting her campaign. Little do they know that a gruff Shrek-like swamp-dweller, Donald (Gleeson) has been squatting in a ramshackle house in the heath for 17 years.

Emily and Donald serendipitously meet in a fanciful rom-com way, and the conflicts of interest, and characters, begins.

The film has the feel of a slap-job patchwork quilt; there’s some very pretty bits, some old bits, perhaps a little square here and there, that hint at meaning. But overall it feels like disparate pieces sewed together for plot convenience.


"It becomes a classic battle between faceless corporate