Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson
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The Best Exotic Tumbledown Squat
Feeling a little lost after her late philandering husband leaves her struggling with debt, London-dwelling American Emily Walters (Diane Keaton) is adrift. Her well-meaning son (James Norton) tries to get her to simplify her life, while her coterie of “ladies who lunch”, all residents of the same upmarket Hampstead apartment house, underwrite her crisis, because what’s five thousand pounds between frenemies?
Emily finds her focus when she stumbles across Donald (Brendan Gleeson), a hermit living in a handmade shack on wooded Hampstead Heath. As it eventuates, the land he’s been squatting on is of considerable value and is due for development, and Emily resolves to help the curmudgeonly but wise Donald keep his ramshackle castle. But could the pair ignite a spark in each other they both long thought had winked out?
Well yes, of course you know going in what kind of movie this is, and you’ve got a fair idea that the end result is probably not going to map exactly onto the real life story of Harry Hallowes, which inspired the film (for one thing, there is no Emily). Hampstead is a strong but somewhat bland hybrid between Notting Hill and the gray market Autumn romance of your choice – call it The Best Exotic Tumbledown Squat, if you like.
Which is not to say it’s without charm. Keaton remains as watchable as ever, even if she is just playing a late-life variation of Annie Hall, complete with kooky fashion sense and whimsy. Putting her next to the ursine Gleeson turns out to be an inspired choice, the latter’s broad, rough-hewn charisma pairing nicely with Keaton’s quirkier appeal.
Hampstead is never quite sure what it’s actually about, though. There’s some lip service paid to notions of class division, gentrification, and self-determination, but it’s all a bit woolly – feel-good platitudes rather than anything actually thought through with any degree of clarity of discernment. Still, it’s a pleasantly enjoyable amble up the gentle slope of rising action to a fairly familiar destination.