As the opening titles begin, a lone kite floats whimsically over Hampstead Heath… and realisation dawns: this already seems rather Mary Poppins. By those titles’ end – all Hampstead Village in dappled sunlight – it’s clear that Hampstead’s other influence is Richard Curtis’ more kitsch and cloying work in films like Notting Hill and About Time. Its representation of London is also about as realistic as Rachel McAdams affording a flat in Maida Vale on a publishing assistant’s salary.
Diane Keaton looks fabulous in her Diane Keaton tailoring, but she almost leans too hard into her role as quirky, slapdash widowed American Emily, who potters about in a carefully bohemian yet firmly middle class way, dodging her apparently imminent financial ruin. Brendan Gleeson appears more comfortable as grumpy yet contented tramp Donald, loosely based on real-life heath-dweller Harry Hallowes, happily living a solitary life in his shack on Hampstead Heath until he is spied upon by Emily. They both bring their undeniable star quality but struggle a little to spark off one another. They – and the rest of the cast – are also let down by insipid writing and shallow characterisation. TV favourites James Norton and Hugh Skinner are particularly wasted as Emily’s nagging son and a local campaigning hippie. Only Lesley Manville gets much chance to shine, mainly because her stereotypical wealthy London ‘burbs “jobswife” needs no depth to ring true(ish). Jason Watkins is also uncomfortably good as a gurning accountant, revelling in the awkwardness he creates.
The wafting vagueness of Hampstead makes it all too evident that it’s aimed squarely at capturing the “grey pound”, but it is bringing nothing fresh – just hollow echoes of Richard Curtis, but sorely lacking any of his willingness to occasionally bite through the schmaltz with some nice, savage British humour.
CAST: Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson, Lesley Manville, Jason Watkins, James Norton, Hugh Skinner, Simon Callow
DIRECTOR: Joel Hopkins
WRITER: Robert Festinger
SYNOPSIS: Recently widowed Emily is attempting to live a carefree life in Hampstead, but financial woes and annoying neighbours are determined to put a dampener on things. She finds a new lease of life, however, when she encounters Donald, a man living wild on Hampstead Heath whose home is under threat from developers.