This British comedy-drama tells the story of a widowed woman who falls in love with a man living alone on Hampstead Heath. Together, they fight property developers who want to take his home, and the story is loosely inspired by true events.
A lonely widow, Emily Waters (Diane Keaton), finds herself falling unexpectedly in love with an angry, grumpy, and reclusive man, Donald Horner (Irish actor, Brendan Gleeson), who is squatting on a patch of ground in Hampstead Heath, London, in a self-made shack. For the last 17 years, Donald has been living illegally.
Emily is struggling to pay what she owes on her apartment, and she is curious about a person, who has set up house in a way that provides cheap and scenic accomodation for a very long time. Emily is idiosyncratic by nature, and Keaton, in taking the role of Emily, sweetly projects the look and feel of “Annie Hall” (1977). Gleeson, as Donald, grumpily communicates to all and sundry, in a very determined way, that he needs, and wants, to stay in the home that he has established. His shack looks broken-down and dishevelled on the outside, but is comfortable and neat on the inside and serves his life-style very well.
Emily looks at Donald’s house through binoculars from the attic of her apartment. When she learns that the authorities are planning to evict him, she resolves to defend him, whether he likes it or not. Donald first resists her approaches, but then succumbs to her emotional pleas.
Throughout the movie, Keaton and Gleeson prove that they are are seasoned and polished performers on the screen, and they both bring maturity and charm to their roles. A variety of sub-plots centre themselves around Donald and Emily. Donald’s presence on the Heath is vastly annoying Emily’s interfering neighbour, Fiona (Lesley Manville), and Jason Watkins plays Emily’s love-struck accountant, who provides viewers with some offbeat and unusual humour.
One can be forgiven for thinking that the film is targeting cinema-goers, who are getting on in life. The drama of life in the past for Emily and Donald has faded, and memories of the past have slipped by. We know that Emily’s husband has cheated on her, but the film doesn’t tell us too much about why she is throwing her shoes at his gravestone. Donald has obviously been pushed by life’s circumstances into wanting to live in isolation, but we learn only a little about why that is the case.
There are strong hints in the movie about pressing social issues. The ethics of property developers are not good, and even Emily’s friends put profit before friendship. Fiona doesn’t want her view of the Heath spoilt in any way, and Donald’s shack is a big problem for a lot of people, who want it moved.
Sentimental values, sweetly delivered, eventually win the day. At heart, the film is about finding unexpected love late in life. In this movie, the elderly are regarded as those needing to grasp life’s chances, and the film focuses sympathetically on difficulties that may arise for them. The movie is photographed well, and Keaton and Gleeson project their characters attractively. Emily and Donald are a likeable couple brought together by chance; they find love and comfort with each other; and they both guide the film to a romantic conclusion destined to appeal.
This is an enjoyable movie, that knows its audience. It is advertised in cinemas with “Morning Tea for Seniors”, and it entertains particularly well in that way. Although Keaton and Gleeson act with style, one suspects they had much more to offer in a film that didn’t really allow them to do so. They are tied to a fairly undemanding movie, which has basically been designed to please, and they didn’t have to work too hard to deliver the goods.
Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting