In the charmingly modest romantic comedy “Hampstead,” Diane Keaton plays a widow living beyond her means in a tony London neighborhood overlooking the picturesque Hampstead Heath. One day, she spies with her binoculars a hermit (Brendan Gleeson) who lives in a handmade shack in a remote corner of the park, and a somewhat unlikely romance ensues after they meet in person at the grave of Karl Marx in nearby Highgate Cemetery. She’s captivated by this man who has renounced the trappings of society, property, and status. She, of course, is slowly being strangled by those same trappings — so much so that she’s considering a dalliance with an accountant who promises to handle the debts left behind by her late husband.
“Hampstead,” directed by Joel Hopkins, appears to have been languishing on a shelf somewhere; it opened in Europe two years ago. Maybe the presence of such high power actors, as well as a supporting cast that includes Lesley Manville and Simon Callow, led to outsize financial expectations. But it’s a pleasant rattle of a film that makes fine use of its likable leads — Keaton’s oddly regal klutziness matches well against Gleeson’s gruff moral rectitude — and an appealing setting.
A subplot involving a courtroom drama over the hermit’s attempts to claim squatter’s rights over his small stretch of the park (based partly on the experiences of the real-life Hampstead hermit Harry Hallowes) threatens at times to derail the story, as does some additional manufactured romantic conflict. But overall, the lively, unfussy “Hampstead” goes down easy.
Rated PG-13 for adult situations and some lingering shots of Karl Marx’s grave. Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes.