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Review: Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson add needed charm to ‘Hampstead’

(L-R)- Diane Keaton as ?Emily Walters? and Brendan Gleeson as ?Donald Horner? in Joel Hopkins?s “Ham
Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson in the movie “Hampstead.”
(Nick Wall / IFC Films)

The charming, often witty “Hampstead” was inspired by the true tale of Irish-born Harry Hallowes, who lived in a makeshift shack in a rustic London park. In 2007, a property developer tried to evict Hallowes, claiming he was on the land illegally, but events took an extraordinary turn.

Screenwriter Robert Festinger (“In the Bedroom”) effectively enters this story via Emily (Diane Keaton), a conflicted, financially strapped widow still living in the upscale flat she shared with her unfaithful late husband.

One day, Emily, whose apartment building faces scenic Hampstead Heath, spots the off-the-grid Harry (Brendan Gleeson) through binoculars, piquing her curiosity. Several encounters follow during which Emily gains the surly Harry’s trust. She’ll eventually help him battle a developer set to build luxury housing where Harry is accused of squatting.

The quasi-credible friendship that develops between Emily and Harry gives way to a less plausible romance. But the winning, sympathetic Keaton and an enjoyably puckish Gleeson largely sell the contrived setup. Still, more about their personal histories would have helped.

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Director Joel Hopkins (“Last Chance Harvey”) elicits fun supporting turns from Lesley Manville as Emily’s nosy friend — and said developer’s wife — and Jason Watkins as an amorous accountant. James Norton (“Grantchester”) also shows up as Emily’s busy adult son.

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‘Hampstead’

Rated: PG-13, for some suggestive material and language

Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Playing: Starts June 14, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena

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