Diane Keaton Hampstead
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Diane Keaton
Director: Joel Hopkins
Running Time: 102 minutes
Synopsis: Hampstead Village, London, is famous for its beautiful and much-loved Heath; a piece of quiet countryside in a vast metropolis.
Living on the edge of the Heath is American widow Emily Walters (Diane Keaton), who can't quite focus on the things that need attention since her husband's death; like her crumbling old apartment, diminishing finances and even her son, Philip (James Norton).
Despite encouragement from her close friend Fiona (Lesley Manville), she doesn't want to admit that she's merely drifting through life. One day, while looking out across the Heath from her attic window, Emily spies a ramshackle hut, which appears to be inhabited by an unkempt man. After witnessing him being attacked by a group of professional thugs, she calls the police and watches through her binoculars as help arrives. The next day she ventures into the woods in search of him.
Donald Horner (Brendan Gleeson) has lived quietly and harmoniously on the edge of the Heath for 17 years but his lifestyle is under threat – his home is the target of property developers who've started using heavy-handed tactics in an attempt to remove him. He is naturally suspicious of Emily and politely rebuffs her attention. But despite his gruff exterior, there is something gentle and alluring about Donald. When Emily discovers that Fiona is leading a community initiative in support of the developers, she bravely steps up to take Donald's side in the escalating battle to save his peaceful Heath dwelling. Though Philip tries to persuade her to retire gracefully to the country, she is determined to defend the emotional and physical livelihood of this quiet and unusual man – a man who might just be the person to sweep her off her feet.
Inspired by a true story, Hampstead is a charming and funny life-affirming tale about how love can be found in the most unexpected places, and proves once and for all that age is no barrier to second chances.
Release Date: July 27th, 2017
About The Production
In A Quiet Corner of London…
Hampstead is the latest film from BAFTA winning director Joel Hopkins (Last Chance Harvey), written by Robert Festinger (In the Bedroom) and produced by Robert Bernstein and Douglas Rae of London-based production company Ecosse Films. HAMPSTEAD, starring Academy Award® winner Diane Keaton (Annie Hall) and Golden Globe® winning actor Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges) is inspired by the life of the late Harry Hallowes, a man who lived his life on a quiet corner of Hampstead Heath in a ramshackle hut.
The story takes place in the picturesque setting of Hampstead Village, a refuge of greenery amidst the hustle and bustle of London. On the edge of the heath lives American widow Emily (Keaton), who is struggling with life in the wake of her husband's death, plunging herself deeper and deeper into debt.
One day, while searching through her husband's belongings, she finds herself looking out of her attic window and spies a man that lives in a tumble-down hut on the Heath. After she witnesses him being attacked, she calls the police. The next day she decides to venture out and find the man. It is an act of compassion that will change her life, and potentially his too.
'It's a contemporary story, that on the surface sees two very different people find love in unlikely circumstances. One is living on the Heath leading an alternative lifestyle, and the other is a lady who lunches, living in a big mansion block overlooking the Heath. They seem the most unlikely of couplings, but this story is about how these two characters come together against the world," says Hampstead producer Robert Bernstein.
The film's origins lay when the news story ran about Hallowes back in 2007. This led Bernstein to contact screenwriter Robert Festinger, who was fascinated by this story of a man that was living rough on Hampstead's world famous Heath. Robert Bernstein was attracted to Robert Festinger because he had a great ear for dialogue and had empathy for the two radically different lead characters. 'The challenge is making sure the characters stayed authentic, they stayed real," explains Robert Festinger. 'This is a guy who has unique struggles in one way, but universal in another. He's living out there in the Heath in a very kind of primitive existence, and you want to find a way to make that something the audience can both be fascinated by and relate to at the same time. You want to keep the balance of comedy and drama and conflict."
To direct the project, Robert Bernstein turned to Joel Hopkins, best known for Last Chance Harvey, starring Academy Award® winners Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. For Robert Festinger, this was a perfect match, feeling that they were both 'cut from the same cloth". Joel Hopkins was attracted to the project for several reasons. Firstly, because he grew up in Hampstead, which meant he had an affinity for the area. But it was the central characters that gripped Joel Hopkins.
'They're both fringe characters, living on the outskirts of their respective societies," says Joel Hopkins. 'Donald's gone off the grid, so to speak. Emily, she's an American living in London, so she doesn't fit in, she is recently widowed, she's got a group of friends that she doesn't feel very connected to. So, she's also an outsider. It's a story of two outsiders that come together through an event and discover something in each other. For me, that is the heart of the story."
For the roles of Emily and Donald, Joel Hopkin's turned to Academy Award® winning actress Diana Keaton and Emmy Award winner Brendan Gleeson. 'They are very different types of actors and very different types of people in a way, and I think that's what's so fun about this story – they are really the odd couple," explains Joel Hopkins, who was aware that the success of the film lay in part with the on-screen chemistry of the two leads. He knew that these two screen actors would come in with two very different approaches. 'Brendan Gleeson's very precise; he likes to work things out, really likes to know exactly what he is doing. He's very engaged. Diane Keaton is looser and likes to see where the scenes go, so it's been fun marrying those two styles together in the process. And so far, touch wood, it's been successful."
Robert Festinger, who was on set for the shoot, agrees with Joel Hopkins that it is the way these two actors approach the filming process differently that fed into the feel of the overall story:
'Brendan Gleeson approached the character in an almost Shakespearian role kind of way. He adds such gravitas and he's a big bear of an actor that eats into the script." Diane Keaton, Robert Festinger notes, used her background in comedy to bring out the lighter side of Emily.
'[She is] capable of going so deep into the character and at the same time can turn in an instant into this wonderful lightness. You never know what you're going to get in a wonderful way because she's always so connected to the character. As a writer, you're looking at this role that you've been with for a long time and seeing somebody like Diane Keaton suddenly elevate it to another level."
The different ways the actors brought the characters to life generated the tension needed to propel the drama and comedy of the script. 'Coming together you see these two textures, these two worlds, collide, and I think a lot of the tension in the film is – will these two worlds will be able to exist together?" says Robert Festinger. 'I think because you have two wonderful actors that are so capable of finding those roles in themselves that it works."
Brendan Gleeson was immediately attracted to the role of Donald: 'I remember reading it [the script] and thinking, when we came to the trial scene, that this is so unlikely it has to be true. You always know. I had to go then and enquire if it was based on truth, which it was up to a point, in terms of the court case it certainly was. [I] became fascinated about what would lead someone to live that particular life… and then the consequences."
With the knowledge that his character was in part based on a real-life man, Brendan Gleeson wanted to wrestle with how to make this man, who has made such a radical life choice, relatable to an audience: 'With this guy, I felt it was a choice. I felt there was a weakness he felt in his own character, which was that he'd run away from various situations in his life, but he'd found a way to make it work for him and he also found a way not to be a burden to other people or to himself, so in that case I was kind of envious of him."
Discussing what it was like working with Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson found it a breath of fresh air and was impressed with the American actress's generosity:
'She works as hard for you off camera as she does when she's on camera so it's been a joy really."
Then came finding the right actors and actresses for the supporting cast. This included long-time Mike Leigh collaborator Lesley Manville, British TV and theatre actor Jason Watkins, long-time thespian Simon Callow, and star of Happy Valley James Norton. 'We've been really lucky," says Joel Hopkins. 'We've built a really fantastic cast, and it just means the quality of the whole piece is lifted. It makes my job a lot easier and those scenes come to life. I just have to shout action a lot of the time and they nail it."
Of course, one of the core aspects of this film is the majestic setting. Joel Hopkins sees Hampstead as another character in the film: 'It's always been a unique neighbourhood within London and it's always had a sort of village feel within the big city."
For him, the attraction of the Heath is that unlike the more polished Royal Parks such as Green and Regent's Park, it has an element of wildness to it.
Brendan Gleeson, who in the film lives in a make-shift shack, also notes Hampstead's individual character: 'There are very few places like it where you basically have a nature reserve overlooking a vast capital city, and it's being maintained as such for ordinary people. The wildlife whilst being husbanded has been allowed in the Heath, which is very unusual and people are very protective of that."
With all the elements set, Joel Hopkins and his team began crafting their story for the screen, bringing a lightness of touch to a tale of two radically different people living in a small, but extremely beautiful corner of London, showing that love can blossom in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Release Date: July 27th, 2017