Cannes: Lesley Manville, James Norton, Jason Watkins, Simon Callow Join ‘Hampstead’

By Leo Barraclough Variety

CANNES — Lesley Manville, who was BAFTA nominated for Mike Leigh’s “Another Year,” James Norton, who was BAFTA nominated for “Happy Valley,” Jason Watkins, who won a BAFTA for “The Lost Honor of Christopher Jefferies,” and Simon Callow, who picked up BAFTA nominations for “A Room with a View” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” have joined Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson in the cast of “Hampstead.”

Principal photography starts on May 22 in Hampstead, North London, and Central London. Inspired by true-life events the film will be directed by Joel Hopkins and produced by Robert Bernstein and Douglas Rae from Ecosse Films, with a screenplay by writer Robert Festinger. Cornerstone Films is handling international sales including North America. Motion Picture Capital will fully finance the production.

The story takes place in Hampstead Village, London, which is well-known for its beautiful and the Heath, a piece of quiet countryside in the middle of the metropolis. Living on the edge of the Heath is American widow Emily Walters (Keaton), who can’t quite focus on the things that need attention, like her lovely old apartment, her finances and even her son. Despite encouragement from her close friend Fiona, she doesn’t want to admit that she’s drifting through life without much thought to her future.

One day while looking out across the Heath from her attic window, Emily spies a ramshackle hut, which appears to be inhabited by an unkempt man. She witnesses him being attacked by a group of thugs. She calls the police and watches, through her binoculars, as help arrives. The next day she ventures into the woods in search of the man.

Donald Horner (Gleeson) has lived quietly and harmoniously on the edge of the Heath for 17 years but now his lifestyle is under threat — his home is the target of property developers who’ve started using heavy-handed tactics to remove him. When Emily introduces herself, he is naturally suspicious and politely thanks her but rebuffs her attention. Despite his gruff exterior, there is something gentle and alluring about Donald and when Emily discovers that Fiona is leading a community initiative in support of the developers, she bravely steps up to take Donald’s side in the escalating battle.