The Dove Take:
Hampstead communicates in an understated way that love and a meaningful way of life is a balance between inner independence and the appreciation of nature and connection with others.
An American widow finds unexpected love with a man living wild on Hampstead Heath when they take on the developers who want to destroy his home.
An American widow woman left in debt by her unfaithful husband finds a man living on the land of Hampstead. He lives in a broken-down shack but is happy with his life. One day she spots him being beaten up and calls the police. After she goes to see him, she starts to fall for him and helps him from being evicted.
While Hampstead is an endearing story about two older people eventually finding their way to each other, Diane Keaton (Emily), in her 70s now, is still full of life and exhibits the same charming quirkiness she always has. When you watch Keaton work, you get a sense that you are seeing “Diane Keaton” as much as you are the character she is portraying, and this is incredibly endearing. For those who have followed her career, seeing her on-screen is like visiting an old friend. She charmingly plays a widow who is deeply in debt and feels paralyzed by her financial circumstances, as well as feeling useless at this stage in her life. But she stumbles upon an Irishman named Donald (Brendan Gleeson), who lives nestled in the woods across the street from her home.
Donald has lived for 17 years in what appears to be a self-sustaining shack of sorts, and Emily’s neighbors are campaigning to have the property repurposed for condominiums, which necessitates Donald being evicted from the land that he has been freely living on. The circumstances are unclear why he initially appropriated this land without legal rights to it and built a shack to live out his days in quiet solitude. Emily encounters Donald through a series of mishaps, which culminates in her spying on him from her attic window through binoculars. They become fast friends as they each appreciate the other’s eccentricities. Donald, though a bit brash, is surprisingly normal, living out his days on his self-sustaining property, where he fishes from a pond and grows his own vegetables; he reads poetry and is incredibly articulate. Emily, a bit smitten with his uniqueness, takes it upon herself to turn his situation into a cause that she can fight for; however, this threatens their friendship, as Donald is initially resistant to this idea. However, once their affection grows into a commitment of sorts, they become a team that takes his fight to court, battling the establishment in the name of humanitarian ideals. Though they are able to celebrate a victory, in the typical romantic comedy trope, there is one last wrench thrown into the mix that threatens to keep them apart forever.
Although this film is somewhat slow-paced it is never boring. These two characters keep each moment alive and serve to engross the viewer in the plot line, which is tasteful throughout: the small villages in the English countryside are as captivating as always, with their mix between the ancient and the modern, and the slower-paced life that is depicted left me yearning for opportunities to disconnect from a bustling urban society and plug into nature, accessing a more contemplative way of life.
This movie also takes several opportunities to subtly advance political notions of environmental stewardship, as Donald and his supporters argue in court and with others that he is not a drain on society, but is instead an asset, due to his stable way of life. Hence, the judge rules that since Donald has lived on the land as long as he has, he should be deemed sole proprietor, ironically turning him into a wealthy man. The difficulty between Donald and Emily near the end of the film lies less in the intricacies of their union than in a philosophy about the optimal way of life and what is truly valuable. This advances the idea that notions of pride are what reign supreme when we reject human connection and intimacy in favor of independence and fear of vulnerability. The message is clear that what should be valued most in life is communion with other others as a way of defining the quality of our day-to-day existence.
Hampstead earns the Dove-Approved Seal for Ages 12+.