Quirky charms of cur­mud­geon ro­mance

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

My first bit of ad­vice about the charm­ing, timely ro­man­tic com­edy-drama Hamp­stead is that if you don’t know any­thing about the real 21stcen­tury English her­mit who is its loose in­spi­ra­tion, keep it that way.

This will have two ben­e­fits. I didn’t know Joel Hop­kins’s film had a fac­tual ba­sis, so I fol­lowed it like a gen­tle (and at times not so gen­tle, such as in the court­room scenes) thriller.

It also means you can ig­nore the crit­ics who are up­set that the mag­nif­i­cent Ir­ish ac­tor who is the on-screen her­mit is not as un­kempt or odor­ous as the real one was (he died last year). Well, I don’t be­lieve Lau­rence Olivier ever drilled into some­one’s teeth, not even Dustin Hoff­man’s, but I still think he was en­ti­tled to take the role in Marathon Man.

All crit­ics have their views and no one is right or wrong. Movies speak to dif­fer­ent peo­ple in dif­fer­ent ways. But I ad­mit I was a bit irked to read, on Em­pire mag­a­zine on­line, that Hamp­stead was “squarely aimed at the older cin­ema­goer” and “just the bill for those se­niors’ mati­nees where the ticket comes with a cuppa and a bis­cuit”.

Bol­locks to that, as Hamp­stead Heath her­mit Don­ald Horner (Bren­dan Glee­son) might say. This film is good for any­one from age 20ish to 100 or more. See it with a cuppa by all means, though Don­ald would fill it with home­made wine, not tea. Hamp­stead

“Do you drink too much all the time?” he asks Emily Wal­ters (a sublime Diane Keaton, An­nie Hall pants in place), the Amer­i­can widow who stum­bles un­in­vited into his life. “No,” she replies. “Only when I drink.” A bit ear­lier, when he gruffly says he wasn’t raised to be a com­plete halfwit, she muses, “Is there such a thing as a com­plete halfwit?”

It’s this sort of un­ex­pected back-and-forth that soft­ens Don­ald’s cur­mud­geonly ex­te­rior. When Emily first meets him, sit­ting be­low (not atop as a pil­lar­ist should) Karl Marx’s tomb in High­gate Ceme­tery, she says, “I hope I am not dis­turb­ing you.” “Too late for that,” he replies.

It’s an ex­change that goes to the heart of the two char­ac­ters. Don­ald is a man who “lives as he chooses to”, but who knows “peo­ple don’t like the way I live”. Emily is a smart, sen­si­tive, strong woman, less vul­ner­a­ble than she seems. She is po­lite to the peo­ple around her but she sees the va­cant spa­ces in daily life. There’s a civilised awk­ward­ness here be­tween the non­recluse char­ac­ters that is spot-on.

Don­ald squats in a small shack on the heath, not far from an old hos­pi­tal that de­vel­op­ers want to de­mol­ish and re­place with lux­ury apart­ments so wealthy peo­ple can buy a “hide­away on the heath”. They want “the tramp” re­moved but he’s not leav­ing his Step­toe and Son-de­signed hide­away with­out a fight.

Emily lives in a portered apart­ment block and works in a char­ity shop. She has se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial prob­lems and is worried she will lose her home.

This goes to the time­li­ness of this movie set in quaint Lon­don: the prop­erty mar­ket, run by in­vestors, is a far from quaint prob­lem for lots of peo­ple in boom­ing Western cities.

There’s not a lot of back­story for Emily or Don­ald, which I like. We come to know them as the film goes on. We learn Emily’s hus­band died a year ago. When she vis­its his grave the re­sult is sur­pris­ing and bril­liant. Don­ald and Emily are an odd cou­ple, no doubt about it, but ro­mance has a tol­er­ance for odd­ness.

English di­rec­tor Hop­kins has a fond­ness for un­pre­dictable An­glo-Amer­i­can ro­mances. He paired the afore­men­tioned Hoff­man, with all his teeth, and Emma Thomp­son in his 2008 film Last Chance Har­vey.

Amer­i­can scriptwriter Robert Festinger made an im­pact with Todd Field’s vi­o­lent drama In the Bed­room. This is a softer film, but it is dis­tin­guished by di­a­logue that sounds real. It is droll and mov­ing, and some­times an­gry.

There are pleas­ing sup­port­ing roles, such as Ja­son Watkins as the ac­coun­tant who helps, and tries to woo, Emily. His mu­si­cal con­tri­bu­tion to her sur­prise birth­day party is hi­lar­i­ous in a cringe-in­duc­ing way.

Si­mon Cal­low is the judge who hears the Don­ald v Prop­erty In­vestors case and, in an ab­so­lute high­light, Phil Davis is the “arse” (Don­ald’s de­scrip­tion) sum­moned as a wit­ness. His ev­i­dence is cranky and mov­ing.

Hamp­stead is about a man who chooses his own path, one I sym­pa­thise with.

But like the ab­sorb­ing re­cent book about the Maine her­mit of 27 years, The Stranger in the Woods, it also shows that such a life can be taken too far and that such a per­son can be in­sen­si­tive to the emo­tional needs of oth­ers, to the point of cru­elty.

Diane Keaton and Bren­dan Glee­son in

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.