If you’re feeling the stress of our country’s current state of impoliteness and lack of civility, then I encourage you to immerse yourself in a movie from “across the pond” that captures the very essence of good manners and propriety. As a matter of fact, having recently spent a few days in London, I can affirm that a level of courteousness exists in England that we seem to have lost. If you want a rush of that warm, fuzzy feeling brought on by human beings being gracious to each other, then watch for the arrival of “Hampstead” and go see it.
Starring our own Diane Keaton, “Hampstead” tugs at the heartstrings without being overly sentimental. Based on an actual event, the film looks closely at the evolution of an unlikely romance that weathers a series of unexpected events. It also considers class, economics, and circumstances brought about by one man’s decision to rebel by refusing to pay taxes and squat on public property.
As an American living in London, Alice (Diane Keaton) finds herself at loose ends after the sudden death of her husband. With circumstances becoming more and more tenuous, both socially and economically, she attempts to put her late husband’s messy business affairs in order. Friends are no help; life with the ladies who lunch has become overbearing.
Things take a sudden turn when Alice goes out of her way to meet a man she’s spied from her attic window. With a view across the wilds of Hampstead Heath through binoculars, she sees something she’s never noticed before: a shaggy, somewhat disheveled man and a shack in the woods. As she gazes, the man is suddenly attacked by an intruder. She immediately alerts the authorities.
So begins an unlikely relationship between Alice and Donald (Breendan Gleeson) when she learns that he’s being bullied by neighborhood factions who believe he stands in the way of progress. Against the approval of everyone she knows, Alice becomes his champion.
What circumstances would allow Donald to remain on the public land of the heath where he’s built his shack and lived peacefully for the last seventeen years? A court hearing will determine his fate. With a good dose of stubbornness, life disappointment, and naiveté Donald refuses to give in to the system. Whether or not Alice can make a difference will depend on how the two of them manage very complicated circumstances.
Chemistry between the unlikely duo moves slowly, but it’s there and believable. Keaton is an older version of Annie Hall, complete with beret and baggy clothes. Gleeson has a teddy bearish quality that somehow compliments Keaton’s spaceiness. Although some of the dramatic situations prove to be a little far-fetched at times, this polite, very British romantic comedy entertains and delights.
All you’ll need to feel better about things on this side of the pond will be this sweet movie and a nice cup of tea.
Currently not rated in the US.
Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews for the Empire-Tribune since 1999.