Review: Hampstead 👍

I will try to convince you that Hampstead [IMDb, Trailer (YouTube)] is an enjoyable movie, although apparently the wider audience so far did not like it. At least if you pay attention to scores on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, which I think do not really represent the audience this movie is targeting.

Movie Poster “Hampstead” (with a rather unusual aspect ratio)

Emily (Diane Keaton) lives in a fairly expensive neighborhood in the north of London. A year ago her husband passed away and ever since she has been trying — and mostly failing — to pull herself together. When she is not dealing with some crisis or activity brought up by the posh ladies living in the apartment house, she works in a charity shop. One day she spots somebody on the overgrown estate across the street and ultimately meets him. Donald (Brandan Gleeson) has been living alone for over 15 years in a small wooden shack he built himself out of other people’s discarded junk. He does not like to be called homeless, because he does have a home. There he grows his own vegetables, generates his own electricity and basically just stays out of everyone’s way. But as you can probably guess, derelict property in an expensive part of the city will not be left alone. As a company plans to build new apartments there, Donald’s way of life is in danger.

The story is roughly based on the life of Harry Hallowes, who lived in Hampstead from the end of the 80s and through the 90s in somewhat similar conditions as depicted in the movie. But to be completely honest, the story will definitely not convince anyone. It is very one-dimensional and predictable. But I also think that it has to be like this, because otherwise I would not have enjoyed — or even noticed — the rest of it as much as I did.

There is a lot to like in there. Starting with the solid acting of Gleeson and Keaton, who bring the two very different — but somehow connected — characters to life. Gleeson is well known for the gruff, quiet and moody type he portrayed in movies like The Guard or In Bruges. He brings these qualities to bear in this movie as well, but there is also an undercurrent of a sharp mind and a repressed sense for romance. All this and more give his character quite a bit of depth, which he conveys convincingly. Keaton’s character is almost as interesting with her painful attempts to fit in with the other ladies and their narrow-minded views and ideas (e.g. petitions against cell towers), while she herself feels quite different about most of it, but doesn’t dare to say so.

But the best thing about these two characters is the kind of interactions and dialogues that happen between them. Donald frequently replies very wittily to Emily’s statements and questions, which then sparks an entertaining exchange, because it either catches her totally off-guard or stretches her patience a little too far. To me these dialogues seemed very well written and definitely are one of the factors that make the movie stand out.

Director Joel Hopkins chose to tell this story at a very slow pace, which is just perfect, because this is exactly what the setting needs. And it gives him the opportunity to include a lot of beautiful shots of the picturesque surroundings. Narrow streets with brick houses on either side and small shops squeezed into the first floor. An old cemetery, partially overgrown and with an almost magical aura. I love places like this and weaving them into a fairly thoughtful narrative works really well.

There are so many different aspects that a viewer can appreciate a movie for. A complex and intriguing story, mind-blowing special effects, solid action scenes, artful camera work, … Hampstead surprised me with a lot of small details that — in my opinion — were done exceptionally well and wrap a very average story into an artfully crafted garment. Finding enjoyment in rather small details might be an acquired taste of mine and I can certainly understand that the wider audience will not necessarily come to the same conclusion as me. I am glad that it was shown to me and can only recommend to try and see, if maybe you can relate to my impression.

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