As un­con­vinc­ing as romance gets

Hampstead 12A cert, 103 min

The Daily Telegraph - - Film -

Dir Joel Hop­kins Star­ring Diane Keaton, Bren­dan Glee­son, Les­ley Manville, Alis­tair Petrie, Ja­son Watkins, Peter Singh, Si­mon Cal­low

Hampstead the film very plainly wants to do for Hampstead the place what Not­ting Hill did for Not­ting Hill. In re­al­ity, the kind of rep­u­ta­tional PR job it per­forms feels closer to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Grimsby. This is a hair-moult­ingly twee and stag­ger­ingly un­con­vinc­ing ro­man­tic com­edy in­spired by the true story of Harry Hal­lowes, a home­less man who was awarded the deed to a £2mil­lion plot of land on the fringe of Hampstead Heath in 2007 after squat­ting there for 20 years, largely un­hin­dered.

Bren­dan Glee­son plays the tramp, here re­named Don­ald for the sake of a lousy joke, and Diane Keaton is Emily, a (wholly fic­tional) widow and long-term res­i­dent of the pic­ture-book north Lon­don neigh­bour­hood who falls in love with him. Why on earth this would hap­pen is not a ques­tion the film seems to con­sider par­tic­u­larly press­ing.

Still, Don­ald is less one of your com­mon-or-gar­den derelict than a kind of mod­ern-day Wordswor­thian rus­tic, wear­ing sus­pi­ciously clean and hole-free knitwear. Glee­son looks about as much like an au­then­tic her­mit as he does Miss Venezuela, which is the first of many un­solv­able prob­lems the film cre­ates for it­self: if it pre­sented its char­ac­ters with even a shred of hon­esty, their romance would be even less plau­si­ble than it is in the en­tirely dis­hon­est fin­ished prod­uct. Don­ald’s tum­ble­down cabin has its own well-stocked lake and an im­mac­u­late kitchen gar­den – when Emily pops around for a cosy diner à deux, there’s fresh salad served in a wooden bowl, grilled fish, and wine served in el­e­gant stemware – while his va­grant’s beard is so well-con­di­tioned it could win a prize at Crufts.

Nev­er­the­less, his presence on the Heath is a bug­bear for Emily’s neigh­bour Fiona (Les­ley Manville). It’s tes­ta­ment to the sim­per­ing aw­ful­ness of the screen­play that an actress of Manville’s cal­i­bre seems so de­feated by ev­ery scene she ap­pears in: Robert Festinger’s di­a­logue just gives her noth­ing to work with, so the char­ac­ter de­faults to an ob­jec­tion­able stereo­type.

Across these great, wind-torn ex­panses of half-wit­ted­ness saun­ters Keaton, dressed in blaz­ers, scarves and berets de­signed to nod to­wards her iconic An­nie Hall wardrobe, though never man­ag­ing to trans­plant an ounce of that film’s comic brisk­ness or panache to the project at hand. The direc­tor, Joel Hop­kins, has had mixed suc­cess with sec­ond-chance midlife ro­mances. This one, how­ever, is a squib of an en­tirely new or­der of sog­gi­ness.

“Guess peo­ple just don’t like the way I live,” Don­ald mist­ily opines dur­ing a stroll through the nearby High­gate Ceme­tery, while Karl Marx’s grave­stone glow­ers in the back­ground. You can say that again. RC

Clean cut: Diane Keaton’s Emily falls for Bren­dan Glee­son’s Don­ald in Hampstead

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