Through the eyes of an American widow who falls in love with a squatter, we get a glimpse into one of London's most charming neighbourhoods: Hampstead Heath in North London…
Emily Walters (Diane Keaton) is an American widow who lives in a fancy apartment in one of London's most expensive neighbourhoods close to the park Hampstead Heath.
Emily does enjoy living in the apartment that she inherited from her husband. Unfortunately though, her late husband also cheated on her and left her in high debt. Therefore, she struggles both financially as well as emotionally.
Emily at Highgate Cemetery. Photo: © 2016 RELIANCE ENTERTAINMENT PRODUCTIONS 6 LIMITED.
One day, she spots a man who seems to live in a self-made wooden house in the park. This squatter is named Donald Horner (Brendan Gleeson), later renamed by the press as "Donald Tramp" (I thought that was pretty funny).
Donald's story is based on the true life story of Harry Hallowes, who in 2007 successfully claimed squatter’s rights to a patch of ground in Hampstead Heath.
Although Donald seems to be a pretty grumpy lone wolf at first, he eventually warms up to Emily and the two become friends. Emily then learns that the property developers who are planning a fancy new apartment building opposite her house want to get rid off Donald at any cost.
As Emily and Donald fight the property developers together, they grow closer and closer and eventually become more than just friends… But can they have a future together? After all, Donald seems too "free spirited" to give up his nomad life in the woods just yet…
Well, Hampstead Heath in North London is an obvious filming location for this one. The biggest park in London, Hampstead Heath might be less known to tourists as you have to go a bit out of the city centre (take the tube to Hampstead, Highgate, Archway or Golders Green and then a local bus).
With the locals however, "Hampstead" is very popular. As the residential area surrounding the park has still preserved much of its former "village charm", it has also become a very thought-after postcode. Therefore, Hampstead Heath now houses more millionaires than anywhere else in the UK.
If the park seems familiar to you, it might be because it has featured in several other films, including Allied (1016), Notting Hill (1999) and Notes on a Scandal (2006). In the latter, teacher Barbara (Judi Dench) frequently comes here to enjoy the view from Parliament Hill (London's highest point) and to pour her heart out to changing "companions".
Donald in "his park". Photo: © 2016 RELIANCE ENTERTAINMENT PRODUCTIONS 6 LIMITED.
The period drama Belle (2013) was also filmed in this area. Based on a true life story, the film is about a mixed race woman in the 18th century who was raised by her aristocratic great-uncle at Kenwood House. Today, Belle's former home, located at the north end of Hampstead Heath, is a National Heritage Museum that you can visit.
On one of their "romantic getaways" to central London, Donald and Emily also visit the British Museum – in my opinion, one of the best FREE museums worldwide!
Finally, some scenes in Hampstead take place at the Highgate Cemetery not far from Hampstead Heath. As the last resting place for many famous Londoners, the cemetery (which was also used as a filming location in Dorian Gray, 2009) has become one of London's most popular tourist attractions. You can even book a guided tour here.
Read more about popular London film locations in this post.
At the British Museum. Photo: © 2016 RELIANCE ENTERTAINMENT PRODUCTIONS 6 LIMITED.
You could kind of see where this was going… Nevertheless, there were several twists and the ending of the film was quite a surprise.
I liked the calmness (subtle music and slow-paced scenes) that was transported through this movie. I also liked Emily's determination to support the squatter Donald. And that she didn't care about what her arrogant "friends" and neighbours would say.
It's quite unusual to see a "middle-aged" man and woman fall in love in this rom-com rather than your average "beautiful young couple". But that was also very refreshing.
Scene from "Hampstead". Photo: © 2016 RELIANCE ENTERTAINMENT PRODUCTIONS 6 LIMITED.
The Final Verdict:
Quite typical in a way, but still an atypical rom-com film that showcases some of London's lesser known gems.
**** 4 out of 5 stars
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