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Hampstead review - Diane Keaton deserves better and so does London | reviews, news & interviews

Hampstead review - Diane Keaton deserves better and so does London

Hampstead review - Diane Keaton deserves better and so does London

Wince-making romcom is pretty but preposterous

Shacking up: Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson in 'Hampstead'

Do the makers of the essentially unnecessary Hampstead have a secret vendetta against north London and its citizenry? The thought occurred to me midway through Joel Hopkins's wannabe romcom, which places the ever-charming Diane Keaton smack dab in the sylvan byways of NW3, only to surround her with a ceaselessly toxic array of locals that no amount of lunches at Villa Bianca could ever put right.

Sure, the Heath is great (I've lived on a street adjacent to it for years), and one is indeed likely to run into Simon Callow now and again, as happens here. But even the briefest of time in the company of Keaton's self-created community would find any sane person hopping the overground to Dalston – which is not a suggestion for a new film title, by the way, if all involved are pondering a sequel. 

Hell, so abject is the situation in which the recently widowed American expat, Emily (Keaton), finds herself that her faintly smarmy son (an entirely wasted James Norton) can't even be bothered to be around for her birthday. Between filial neglect and an assemblage of squawking and unctuous neighbours who value flashy new flats over hospitals, it's not difficult to see why Emily takes more than a passing glance in the direction of the shambolic Donald (Brendan Gleeson), a Heath-dwelling iconoclast who at least seems to have a heart. On the other hand, I can imagine plenty of women drawing the line at conversational gambits like "the Heath rain is a harsh mistress".  If this were Annie Hall, and Keaton's wardrobe often suggests that sartorially at least it just might be, that remark would achieve total heaviosity. 

Lesley Manville and Diane Keaton in 'Hampstead'Donald, in fact, is a cinematic reimagining of the late Harry Hallowes, the real-life Irishman whose longterm residency on the heath resulted in a successful claim to a sliver of land that is thought to have been worth several million pounds. Robert Festinger's screenplay nods vacantly at the disconnect between the struggles of the Harrys/Donalds of this world and the patronising bubble inhabited by the moneyed assemblage of harpies whom Emily has for neighbours. But a far more vivid disconnect takes hold between these grotesque harridans – Donald, inevitably, is derided as "that tramp from the Heath" – and the expert actresses playing them: one can only imagine the encoded eye-rolling between Lesley Manville and Deborah Findlay that surely took place in-between takes. (Manville pictured with Keaton, above).

Jason Watkins in 'Hampstead'And with the celluloid likes of Notting Hill now almost 20 years old (we can skip politely over the Paul Bettany-Kirsten Dunst Wimbledon), it's somewhat dismaying to think that the London tourist brochure approach to filmmaking is still of interest to anyone. As someone who has spent significant chunks of my London life on the 24 bus, I was pleased to see that Gleeson and Keaton too have sampled its wares, but the film places so many obstacles in Emily's way that one half expects her quest for a scarf to be something she can then use as a noose. Instead, Keaton's unforced and ageless appeal notwithstanding, our heroine encounters rude shopkeepers and a dubious suitor in her touchy-feely accountant (Jason Watkins, pictured above), whose fondness for liquid lunches and the ukulele can't disguise his status as a creep. 

The central pairing isn't helped along by a literal-minded script in which Donald identifies himself as being from "Dublin, Ireland" in case you were thinking perhaps Paris, Texas, not to mention a view of romance among the senior set that apparently doesn't stretch to a first kiss. And nary an opportunity is missed to underline such themes as the material possesses. "We all have problems, Donald," Emily announces, keen to make plain that distress can cross the socio-economic divide. Later on, her climactic broadside in the direction of the malign Manville  – "I was your quirky American project" – doesn't begin to communicate the feeling that any sentient filmgoer will have long since already muttered on this vibrant actress's behalf. 

It's somewhat dismaying to think that the London tourist brochure approach to filmmaking is still of interest to anyone

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Average: 2 (1 vote)

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