Storytelling: Much (and Little) can be made of simple stories

Hampstead is a romance that relies on a lovely setting and well-known actors to make the film attractive. The final credits of the film also reveal that Hampstead is based on the true story of how tramp, Henry (Harry) Hallowes, squatted on a piece of land in the posh area of Hampstead in the UK, and was finally awarded squatters’ rights to his home. The granting of his rights wasn’t easy and his snooty neighbours were certainly not in favour of the ruling.

So, more than a visually appealing setting and good actors (Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson), Hampstead poses the interesting dilemma of homelessness versus property rights, living off the land versus taking from the land, living by the rules versus flouting the rules. It’s a dilemma because on the one hand we admire Hallowes for his simple existence that centuries ago would have been the norm. On the other hand we live in a world where expensive rates and taxes must be paid for high standards of living. So how do we reconcile the two living systems, if at all?

Unfortunately for Hampstead, the setting, acting and story are spoilt by poor scriptwriting and uneven story development, at times going too fast, at others too slow.

A beautiful South African film (which may already be off circuit) is Meerkat Maantuig. Meerkat Maantuig is a children’s story about death, fear, bravery, friendship and love. The setting is lovely, the characters quirky and the fantastical elements such that the exact location and time in history are unidentifiable and immaterial. Unlike Hampstead the storytelling here is deep, and the main character (played by Anchen du Plessis) well-developed. It’s an example of the depth that can be created by a very simple tale.

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