You Said it, Diane Keaton!

I must admit Diane Keaton made me livid at first. It’s what she said about the part of London in which the film Hampstead is set.

According to The Times, the American star who plays the main character found Hampstead a bit of a disappointment. “I thought it was charming,” Keaton is quoted as saying, “but I thought it was going to be slightly more unusual.”

For my money (there’s less of it since I moved to Hampstead, mind), this neighbourhood has the lot. Yes, it’s congested as well as expensive, and you can forget about parking.

But I’m sticking up for Hampstead. For one thing it’s cosmopolitan. Ambling down the High Street last week, I heard no fewer than eight languages spoken. NW3 is liberal, inclusive, and intellectual, with a rich literary heritage that takes in writers as varied as Keats and Ian Fleming.

There is, in Keaton’s words, “nice architecture”. The streets are also awash with blue plaques, as anyone can see on a short stroll – details here.

One house, two blue plaques: both Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna Freud lived here

Hampstead’s renown goes back a long way. John Constable moved his family here in 1827 as the area was said to have cleaner air than Suffolk. He lived in Well Walk, where he found he could unite a town and country life. His bones now rest in the graveyard of St John’s parish church, a cemetery crammed with notables.

The Constable family tomb

Hampstead Heath, where the squatter of the film lives, is an ancient parkland of 320 hectares. It’s an oasis of biodiversity and an area for sports. From here there’s an impressive view of London. The Whitestone Pond at the top of Hampstead Village is technically the highest point of the capital.

One of the ponds on Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath Pond Number One

Even if you don’t set foot on the heath, Hampstead is a delight. There are great pubs and it’s a foodie’s paradise. I don’t know where the scriptwriter shops, but I’ve yet to spot a shrivelled apricot in Waitrose.

Hampstead Butcher & Providore, Rosslyn Hill

You want unusual? This is Britain, yet open-air swimming on Hampstead Heath is legendary, with its ladies’ and men’s ponds being the only life-guarded open water swimming places available to the public every day of the year.

And how’s this for offbeat advertising in the heart of the village?

Just take a card from the little box near the top.

On reflection, however, Diane Keaton was right when she said Hampstead was nothing special. But I reckon she meant the film, not the area.

The movie’s basic premise – a well-turned out widow falling for a man who literally pops out from behind a hedge – is flawed, the hermitic heath-dweller is improbably hygienic, and, if you’re generous, you might call the acting uneven.

Worse, I found the character of Emily Walters irritating. She looks terrific (this is after all Diane Keaton), but she’s vacant and ditzy. Emily admits to being bad with money, so no wonder she can’t make ends meet. She seems to have no education, occupation, or aspiration, and her “personality” can be summed up in two words: goofy grin. She does however deserve a Brownie point for working in the Oxfam shop, and perhaps some credit for raising such a presentable son (James Norton is always easy on the eye).

Hampstead the area deserves better than Hollywood pap.

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You may also like:

Talking Location with Author Carol Cooper

Why Hampstead is Literally an Inspiration

… and next week: Progress on the Secret Project

Ham and Eggs with Mr Turner

It was lovely to sit down for two and a half hours with my mobile turned off. On the minus side, I had to put up with caricatures that would have done Harry Enfield and Chums proud. In the lead role is an on-form Timothy Spall doing his best-ever impression of Timothy Spall’s rendition of Timothy Spall.

His gurning is magnificent, his grunts fit for a piggery at feeding time. It all helps establish JMW Turner’s origins: his father was a barber and his mother a lunatic (as it was termed in Victorian times). The artist’s inarticulacy is well portrayed, but I didn’t see the need to over-egg the pudding, turning him and his housekeeper into Wayne and Waynetta Slob

There is also much gasping, groaning, staggering and falling about, all of which sharpens the contrast between Turner and his colleagues at the Royal Academy (filmed at Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham, South Yorkshire). There we have John Carew, David Roberts, John Constable, John Singer Sargent, Sir John Soane and others. The more Turner grunts, the more they twirl, ponder, recoil, ponce about and generally over-act.

Then Mike Leigh takes the piss out of the Ruskin family who come across as unbearably pseud.

I can't show you a Turner. Go to the Tate Britain.

I can’t show you a Turner here. Go to the Tate Britain.

The film Mr Turner goes to huge lengths (or, as the Daily Mail puts it, ‘amazing tricks’) to make the film authentic in every detail. Doctors did house calls in those days, though I’m not sure how Leigh induces Dr Price to come to London all the way from Margate for a simple home visit, especially since, in the film, Margate has quietly slipped west to Cornwall.

Still, the stethoscope is spot on as the simple tube invented by Frenchman René Laënnec His name is pronounced ‘Le Neck’ though this isn’t where doctors wore it at the time. The binaural model used today only came into production in 1851, the year Turner died. 

HP Rapaport Sprague stethoscope, circa 1981

HP Rapaport Sprague stethoscope, circa 1981

I liked Turner’s last mistress Mrs Booth (played by Dorothy Atkinson) who bears more than a passing resemblance to my ex-husband’s new wife. And Marion Bailey is a superb depiction of loyal housekeeper Hannah Danby, not least for the evolution of her psoriasis. First we see her scratching her neck, but later her scaly skin turns rampant. As the years pass, she becomes increasingly stooped and rigid, probably from psoriatic arthropathy which affects some 10% of people with psoriasis.

Turner’s eccentricity and talent come across well, as does the progression of his style of painting. Many of the images are genuinely beautiful. But the acting? More ham than a Bavarian market.

This is just my opinion. In no way does it represent the views of my husband (who thought we had booked to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), let alone the rest of the movie world. I’m sure everyone else will absolutely love the film to bits, darling.