Hampstead is a British film directed by Joel Hopkins, starring Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson. The film tells the story of Emily Walters (Diane Keaton), a middle-class American widow, struggling with the debt her husband left her, and Donald Horner (Brendan Gleeson), a grumpy, middle-aged Irish man who built an illegal shack on the (expensive) Hampstead property and faces eviction. The film combines a romance story with contemporary social issues like the rise in homlessness in big cities due to unaffordable housing, gentrification and the crisis of middle-age.
These social issues, while present, are represented in a somewhat shallow way. The legal problems Donald faces are solved uncharacteristically fast, the middle-class community ends up winning in the end, and the film presents the privileged story of a woman who can afford to have her life fall apart. Emily manages to get out of her bankruptcy at an age where she is no longer relevant for the work force, by selling a bunch of expensive antiques she just had lying around in the attic and moving to a beautiful, rural cottage. Had she been a working class mother of five the story would have been completely different. However, stories like that also deserve a place in cinematography and this is not the Ken Loach type of film where social issues are at the forefront. Instead, they just receive an acknowledging nod, as the plot focuses on the love story between Emily and Donald. And as far as that is concerned, the film is a total success.
Keaton’s and Gleeson’s acting makes them lovable protagonists and their romance is characteristically warm and believable. Keaton’s performance is an endearing reminder of Annie Hall (minus the ocassionally annoying Woody Allen, which is a plus) and Gleeson’s character is a breath of fresh Irish air in a world full of British people who buy their peaches from Waitrose (not joking, it is an actual thing in the film). The two of them together manage to create conversations and situations that do not seem fake or cheesy and imitate the way real people talk about their real problems. The fact they are both middle-aged eliminates the cliché of a romantic film. The unsubstantial sources of conflict that would be the main plot twist in your typical romantic film get resolved easily, because they both talk like adults. Their fights seem real, the problems they are confronting have more substance, no one wallows in their own sorrow in the pouring rain, and even the ending will take you by surprise.
All in all, Hampstead is a good film to watch, particularly on a day when you’re not feeling so good about your life. There’s something old school about it that takes you back to a time where the film world wasn’t so flashy and in your face. Seeing older characters in the centre of a romantic film is a nice change and it will give you some perspective on your life, or at least leave you with a nice happy feeling for the rest of the day. The occasionally wobbly plot can be overlooked because the film feels generally refreshing and I can guarantee that you will leave the cinema wanting to enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
Hampstead is in cinemas nationwide from June 23rd