Anna Scott : “Her most famous part. Men went to bed with the dream; they didn’t like it when they would wake up with the reality. Do you feel that way?”
William : “You are lovelier this morning than you have ever been.”
I’ve definitely grown softer in the past fourteen months. Could it be that all the isolation, incertitude and fear that I was soaking in managed to make me a more sensitive and understanding person? Have I evolved into a better version of myself… and has the troublesome trauma of this time somehow affected my taste? I definitely find myself being moved by things that I used to distance myself from. Case in point, romantic comedies. It’s my least favorite movie genre, and one that is the last recourse. I’m not a fan of Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts’ movies that fall under this category. On a recent evening, I clicked on “Notting Hill” (1999) because I hadn’t seen it since it came out, and I remembered that Hugh Bonneville (I’m a big fan!), who reached stardom with “Downton Abbey,” had a small but memorable part in it. With fresh eyes and a bigger, more developed heart, I fell under its spell.
In it, Julia Roberts delivers the famous line, “I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” I remember groaning out loud in my seat when I first heard it. I thought it was piffle and just too cute. The cynic that lived within me twenty years ago couldn’t stand the sentiment. Was I being too harsh? As I rewatched with renewed eyes, I found that the scene plays with such sincerity and warmth, the line delivered in an intelligent and nuanced performance by the actress. Yes, I have become less intolerant, but the film is good. And it might just be her best work.
It plays out like a modern retelling of the William Wyler classic “Roman Holiday” (1953) where Audrey Hepburn is a princess who sneaks out to fall in love with the Eternal City and with reporter Gregory Peck. In an interview with Variety around the 20th anniversary of “Notting Hill’s” release, writer Richard Curtis says that he hadn’t seen “Holiday” before finishing his script. “Thank god I hadn’t because I might have been self-conscious. I am very glad I didn’t know,“ he said. What kind of screenwriter claims to have never seen “Roman Holiday”?! My new enlightened self will just ignore that. Nevertheless, the similarities are there, including a press conference as part of both of their denouements. In “Notting Hill,” superstar Anna Scott walks into a bookstore in the quaint neighborhood of the title and falls in love with a commoner, and London is as enchanting a playground for our lovers as Rome.
Curtis explains that the inspiration for the film came from a weekly dinner with his friends. “There was one who has never heard of anybody famous and the other one was Helen Fielding, who wrote ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ and knew everybody,” he recalls. “I used to imagine what would it be like if I drove down [to their house] with Madonna — how would the dinner party go?” In the film, Will (played by Hugh Grant) brings Anna to his sister’s birthday party, and they’re all shocked that a celebrity is with them. It is the moment that everything clicks for me in the narrative. That’s where we’re introduced to this loving group of old friends which includes Max (Tim McInnerny) and his wheelchair bound wife, Bella (a terrific Gina McKee) who work as a nice foil as a strong couple whose love has survived a difficult test. Honey (the gone too soon and phenomenal Emma Chambers) is the daffy sister who envisions herself as Anna’s best friend. And my favorite, Bernie (Bonneville,) the endearingly dopey friend of Will’s who doesn’t have any clue about Anna’s career. Not at the dinner party, but still making a splash, is Rhys Ifans as the caustic roommate whose fashion sense and obsession with bodily functions is hysterical. There’s also quite a sharp satire of Hollywood’s surreal press junkets, in which Will is mistakenly thought to be a reporter for “Horse and Hound” and is led in and out of interviews with the co-stars of Anna’s latest sci-fi film.
For a while, Hugh Grant became the official king of the rom-com with “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “Love Actually.” The press compared him to fellow Brit Cary Grant. His befuddlement and good looks were a winning combination. It’s been quite rewarding to see his work the past few years in challenging roles on TV in “A Very English Scandal” (2018) and “The Undoing” (2020). Here, the pairing with Roberts is terrific. She’s subtle and tender in this role that must have struck a chord in her. There are some lines and moments in this movie regarding the price of fame and the media in which we understand she’s speaking from experience. The opening credits with Elvis Costello singing Charles Aznavour’s “She” to a montage of Anna’s red carpet movie premieres is a doozy.
Anna Scott : I’ve been on a diet every day since I was nineteen, which basically means I’ve been hungry for a decade. I’ve had a series of not nice boyfriends, one of whom hit me. Ah, and every time I get my heart broken, the newspapers splash it about as though it’s entertainment. And it’s taken two rather painful operations to get me looking like this.
Honey : Really?
Anna Scott : Really. And, one day not long from now, my looks will go, they will discover I can’t act and I will become some sad middle-aged woman who looks a bit like someone who was famous for a while.
Max : [long pause] Nah, nice try gorgeous, but you don’t fool anyone.
William : Pathetic effort to hog the brownie.
Available to stream on Netflix and fuboTV and to rent on Amazon Prime, Microsoft, Google Play, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Apple TV+, FandangoNOW, Redbox, DIRECTV and AMC Theatres on Demand
Written by Richard Curtis
Directed by Roger Michell
Starring Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville, Tim McInnerny, Gina McKee, Emma Chambers and Richard McCabe
Bringing “Notting Hill” to the Screen
…With “Four Weddings and a Funeral” having made cinema history, it was inevitable that “Notting Hill” would find itself from the outset attached by comparisons and expectations. “Notting Hill,” says producer Duncan Kenworthy, “is not a sequel. Of course people will have expectations and we hope to live up to those expectations, but we are certainly not, as we go about making the film, comparing it in any way. It is another romantic comedy, but very different from ‘Four Weddings’ which was a story of big social events with none of the real life in-between. ‘Notting Hill’ is the complete opposite, the day-to-day details of a love affair. What makes it unusual and special is that it is a love affair between the most famous woman in the world and just an ordinary guy.” When it came to looking for a director for the project, the producers went for theatre and television director, Roger Michell. “Finding someone as good as Roger,” says Kenworthy, “was just like finding the right actor to play each role. Roger shone out. He has an absolute nose for truthfulness.” This view is echoed by executive producer, Eric Fellner, who says, “Roger’s principal interest is in character. When you have that truth of character combined with a script as solid as Richard’s you get something very special.”
With Michell on board, thoughts turned to casting. “Whenever you’re asked about casting your film,” says Kenworthy, “there’s always a fiction that whomever you cast was always your first choice, but I have to say that Julia Roberts was the one and only person we thought of for the part of Anna. I remember saying to Roger, ‘let’s offer it to Julia’ and Roger said, ‘we’ll never get her.’ So when Julia’s agent said it was the best romantic comedy she had ever read, I thought that was a good sign.” Michell comments, “What Julia brings to the part is an unavoidable coincidence between who she is-a fantastically famous film star, and what her role is–a fantastically famous film star. However she is still acting a part. She is not playing Julia Roberts, she’s playing Anna Scott, another person entirely.” “Julia has a unique ability to come alive when the word ‘action’ is spoken. She has a kind of gift for life, a spontaneity and distillation of real life which suddenly, like a match striking, goes off on action which is awesome.” When casting the role of William, the decision to offer it to Hugh Grant was unanimous. Kenworthy says, “Hugh is one of the only actors who can speak Richard’s lines perfectly, like an expression of Richard’s inner rhythms.” Michell adds, “Hugh does Richard better than anyone else, and Richard writes Hugh better than anyone else. I think that’s a writer/actor marriage made in heaven. Hugh has brought a fantastic skill to a part which I can’t imagine anyone else doing.” Commenting on the casting, Fellner says, “I think Hugh is a phenomenal leading man in a film of this sort. And Julia has proven many times before that she is the queen of romantic comedy.” Central to the story of ‘Notting Hill’ is William’s group of supportive friends. These roles went to Hugh Bonneville, Tim McInnerny and Gina McKee, with Emma Chambers as Honey, William’s sister, and Welsh actor Rhys Ifans cast as Spike, William’s flatmate from hell. “It’s rather like assembling a family,” Michell explains. “When you are casting a cabal of friends, you have to cast a balance of qualities, of types and of sensibilities. They were the jigsaw that had to be put together all in one go, and I think we’ve got a very good variety of people who can realistically still live in the same world.” “One of the great things about casting this sort of film in the UK,” says Kenworthy, “is that we have a wealth of brilliant actors to draw on. We looked for people who would be absolutely the best actors to play these roles as realistically as possible- and let comedy grow naturally out of character, rather than the other way around.” Summing up the overall appeal of “Notting Hill,” Kenworthy remarks, “I think one of the great things about Richard’s writing is that it is drawn from a positive view of life. This is a very difficult way to write comedy, which is most often a sort of ripping-apart of human pretensions. But Richard doesn’t do that. His writing always seems to remind you that people are genuine, vulnerable, special–funny because of how loveable they are, not simply how stupidly they behave.” (web.archive.org)
Screenwriter Richard Curtis on Casting “Notting Hill”
Roberts was the one and only choice of Curtis and director Roger Michell to play Anna — but what would have happened if she hadn’t accepted? “I don’t like to consider that,” he said laughing…What Curtis learned from “Four Weddings and a Funeral” director Mike Newell is that when a movie is cast, the work is “75% done. So, he was unbelievably thorough for even the smallest part. Roger Michell, coming from theater, was exactly the same. So, we tended to spend an unrealistic amount of time casting the movie especially those friends. We wanted to get the right people.” “We had two weeks’ rehearsals,” said McInnerny. “That’s really important. Julia was there all the time. You can’t invent knowing somebody for 20 years. You have to be together and understand each other’s sense of humor so that you can play with each other on the set and trust each other.” That trust was especially important when McInnerny had to carry McGee up the stairs. “We did that 19 times. The shot didn’t quite work. I wouldn’t be able to do it now. But I loved working with Gina. We had such a good time.” (variety.com)
About Writer Richard Curtis
Richard Curtis is a film writer and director, responsible for films such as “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” “Mr Bean,” “Love Actually,” “The Boat That Rocked,” and most recently “Trash” and “About Time.” In the other half of Richard’s life, he is co-founder and vice-chair of Comic Relief, which he started after visiting Ethiopia during the 1985 famine and led to the fundraising event, Red Nose Day. He has co-produced the 14 live nights for the BBC, and since 1985, the charity has made over £1.25 Billion for projects in the UK and internationally. In 2015, he helped bring Red Nose Day to the United States with the partnership of NBC and Walgreens – where it has so far raised nearly $150 million to help children in the USA and around the world. Richard was a founding member of Make Poverty History, the campaign for the MDGs and worked both on that and on Live 8 in 2005. As part of his contribution to the MPH campaign he wrote “The Girl In The Cafe” for HBO and the BBC – a television drama based around the G8 summit – which won 3 Emmys. In 2015 he helped found Project Everyone to work to make the Global Goals famous and effective – and is now a UN Advocate for the SDGs. (project-everyone.org)
About Director Roger Michell
Roger Michell is an award-winning theater director whose venture into film and television has been equally successful. Roger’s film “Notting Hill” has become one of the highest grossing British films of all time. Roger was born in South Africa, but spent significant parts of his childhood in Beirut, Damascus, and Prague, since his father’s job as a diplomat required the family to move often. While in England, he enrolled at Cambridge University, where he received considerable attention for his directing talents. After graduating from Cambridge, Roger moved to London and began an apprenticeship at the Royal Court Theatre. During this time, he was living hand-to-mouth in a rundown section of town, but he was gaining invaluable experience acting as assistant director to noted British playwrights John Osborne and Samuel Beckett. Roger soon began writing and directing projects on his own. The most successful of these ventures was 1982’s “Private Dick,” a comedy which won the Fringe First Award at the world famous Edinburgh Festival in Scotland. In 1985, Roger joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and was the Resident Director there for six years. During his tenure, he was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for directing the immensely popular Some Americans Abroad. After the Royal Shakespeare Company, Roger directed two miniseries and a documentary for British television before receiving his feature break directing the film adaptation of Jane Austin’s novel “Persuasion” (1995.) Originally shown on BBC and later released by Columbia TriStar, the movie earned five BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Awards, including Best Drama.
Roger’s next big break came when he was selected to direct “Notting Hill.” Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant were soon added into the mix as was producer Duncan Kenworthy, who sent the script to Roger after being impressed with the comedic opening of his gay tragic-comedy play “My Night with Reg” (1996.) “Notting Hill” would go on to make $360 million worldwide, and establish Roger as an internationally renowned director. Roger was next back in the director’s chair with “Changing Lanes,” a character driven film about man’s need for revenge, starring Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson. The movie was a departure from romantic comedies and with it Roger showed his range as a director. The film was noted for its unique style and quick cuts, as well as its edgy and rain-soaked portrayal of New York City. Roger’s recent movies have included the critically acclaimed “Enduring Love” starring Daniel Craig, and the comedy-drama “Venus” with Peter O’Toole and Leslie Phillips. “Venus” premiered at Telluride and was nominated for five British Independent Film Awards and earned Oscar, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild, and Golden Globe nominations for O’Toole as Best Actor. Leslie Phillips also received a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Roger’s latest movie is “Morning Glory” starring Harrison Ford and Rachel McAdams. Roger has also seen success in the commercials genre with his commercial for American Express featuring Kate Winslet earning an AICP award. (savilleproductions.com) His most recent works include “Hyde Park on Hudson” (2012), “Le Week-end” (2013), “Birthday” (2015), “My Cousin Rachel” (2017), “Tea With the Dames” (2018), “Blackbird” (2019) and most recently “The Duke” in 2020.