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Notting Hill (film)

Notting Hill is a 1999 romantic comedy film set in Notting Hill, London, released on 21 May 1999. The screenplay was written by Richard Curtis who had previously written Four Weddings and a Funeral. It was produced by Duncan Kenworthy, and directed by Roger Michell. The film stars Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, Rhys Ifans, Emma Chambers, Tim McInnerny, Gina McKee and Hugh Bonneville.

Bookshop owner William Thacker's world begins to turn upside down after the world's most famous actress, Anna Scott, visits his store. A few minutes later, Will knocks into Anna on the street and spills his orange juice over her. He offers her his place to change, and hence starts a tense courtship between an everyday man and the woman every man dreams of.

The film was well received by critics, and charted well at the box office, becoming the highest grossing British film yet released. The film won a BAFTA, and was nominated in two other categories. Notting Hill won several other awards, including a British Comedy Award and a Brit Award for the soundtrack.

Plot

William Thacker is the owner of an independent bookstore in Notting Hill that specializes in travel writing. Witty and handsome, he has not been coping well with his divorce and is currently sharing his house with an eccentric Welsh wannabe artist named Spike. One day, Thacker encounters world-famous Hollywood actress Anna Scott during her trip to London, when she enters his shop to purchase a book. Shortly thereafter, the pair accidentally collide in the street, causing William to spill his orange juice on the both of them. He offers his house, which is just across the road, as a place for Anna to get changed. She accepts and they retire to his abode. Having changed, Anna surprises William with a kiss and plants the seeds for their mutual attraction.

Days later, William asks Spike if he has any messages. Spike has trouble writing down or remembering any messages left for Will, but does recall "Some American girl called Anna" calling a few days previous. Anna is staying at the Ritz, under a pseudonym, and asks William to come and visit her. When he arrives, Anna's room has become the centre for a press day and as a result, William is mistaken for a member of the press. In a moment of panic he claims he works for Horse & Hound magazine. He has to interview every single cast member of Anna's new film Helix, even though he has not seen the film himself. William does get to talk to Anna, and invites her to his sister Honey's birthday party.

There, at Max and Bella's house, Anna feels at home with William's circle of friends, putting up a good case for the "last brownie". The pair go on several dates, to the cinema and to a restaurant. Anna invites William back to her hotel room, only to find her American boyfriend, Jeff King, already there. Although Anna asserts that they have broken up, William decides to leave anyway. Some time later, Anna arrives on William's doorstep, hoping for a place to stay. Some degrading images of her that look like a porn film have been leaked to the press. The newspapers have consequently started ridiculing her (calling her "Scott of Pantarctica" and "Wotta Lotta Scott") and she needs to hide out. The pair bond once again, with William helping Anna learn lines for her new film. That night, the pair sleep together for the first time. In the morning, William is stunned to see a throng of reporters at their doorstep, it seems that careless talk by Spike down at the pub the previous night had alerted the media to Anna's whereabouts. She leaves in a hurry, and William decides once and for all to forget her.

One year later, Anna returns to England to make a Henry James film, which William had suggested she do. She invites him to the set of the film and he listens to the sound recording whilst Anna is busy filming. He overhears her telling her co-star that William is "just some guy", and leaves. The next day, Anna comes to the bookshop once again, hoping to resume their love affair, but William turns her down. Afterwards, William consults his friends on his decision, leading him to realize that he has just made the biggest mistake of his life. He and his friends search for Anna, racing across London in Max's car. They reach Anna's press conference before she leaves for the United States, and William successfully persuades her to stay in England with him. Anna and William get married, with the film concluding with a shot of William and a pregnant Anna sitting on a park bench in Notting Hill.

Cast and characters

  • Julia Roberts as Anna Scott: A world-famous Hollywood film star. She meets Will when she comes into his book shop whilst shopping in Notting Hill. Roberts was the "one and only" choice for the role of Anna, although Roger Michell and Duncan Kenworthy did not expect her to accept the part. She did however take the role, with her agent citing it as "the best romantic comedy she had ever read". Roberts herself commented that after reading the script she decided she was "going to have to do this".
  • Hugh Grant as William Thacker: Recently divorced owner of a travel book shop in Notting Hill. He meets Anna Scott when she comes in looking for a book. The decision to cast Grant as Will was unanimous, as together he and Richard Curtis had a "writer/actor marriage made in heaven". Michell stated that "Hugh does Richard better than anyone else, and Richard writes Hugh better than anyone else", and that Grant is "one of the only actors who can speak Richard's lines perfectly".
  • Rhys Ifans as Spike: Will's strange Welsh flatmate, who dreams of being an artist. He is described by Will as "the stupidest person in the world".
  • Emma Chambers as Honey Thacker: Will's ditzy younger sister, she is a huge fan of Anna Scott.
  • Tim McInnerny as Max: Will's best friend, who Will often stays with. He and Bella host Honey's birthday party.
  • Gina McKee as Bella: a paraplegic lawyer. She is married to Max.
  • Hugh Bonneville as Bernie: A failing stockbroker and a friend of Will. He fails to realise who Anna Scott is upon first meeting her.
  • James Dreyfus as Martin: William's ineffective assistant at his bookshop.
  • Richard McCabe as Tony: A failing restaurateur, whose restaurant the group often meets at.
  • Dylan Moran as Rufus: A thief who attempts to steal from Will's bookshop. Despite being caught on the CCTV, he professes his innocence, attempting to conceal the stolen book in his trousers, then asks Anna if she wants his phone number.

The casting of Hugh Bonneville, Tim McInnerny, Gina McKee, Emma Chambers and Rhys Ifans as Will's group of friends was "rather like assembling a family". Michell explained that "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."

Alec Baldwin makes an uncredited appearance as Anna's American boyfriend. Sanjeev Bhaskar has a cameo role as one of the loud and offensive men in the restaurant Anna and Will attend. A young Mischa Barton makes a brief appearance as the child actor whom Will pretends to interview for Horse & Hound magazine.

Production

"I would sometimes wonder what it would be like if I just turned up at my friends' house, where I used to have dinner once a week, with the most famous person at that time, be it Madonna or whomever. It all sprang from there. How would my friends react? Who would try and be cool? How would you get through dinner? What would they say to you afterwards?"
— Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis developed the idea for the film from thoughts he had, whilst lying awake at night. He described the starting point for the plot as "the idea of a very normal person going out with an unbelievably famous person and how that impinges on their lives". Four Weddings and a Funeral director Mike Newell was approached for the film, but rejected it to work on Pushing Tin instead. He did later admit that in commercial terms he had made the wrong decision, but did not regret it. The film's producer Duncan Kenworthy then turned to Roger Michell, stating that "Finding someone as good as Roger, was just like finding the right actor to play each role. Roger shone out."

Curtis chose the setting of Notting Hill for the film as he lived there and knew the area well, stating "Notting Hill is a melting pot and the perfect place to set a film". This left the producers with a challenge of having to film in a heavily populated area. Kenworthy noted "Early on, we toyed with the idea of building a huge exterior set. That way we would have more control, because we were worried about having Roberts and Grant on public streets where we could get thousands of onlookers." In the end they decided to take the risk anyway and film in the actual streets. Michell was worried "that Hugh and Julia were going to turn up on the first day of shooting on Portobello Road, and there would be gridlock and we would be surrounded by thousands of people and paparazzi photographers who would prevent us from shooting". The location team, and security forces prevented this, as well as preventing problems the presence of a film crew may have caused the residents of Notting Hill, who Michell believes were "genuinely excited" about the film. The film's location manager Sue Quinn described her job of finding suitable locations and getting permission to film there as "a mammoth task". Quinn and the rest of her location team had to send letters to thousands of people in the area, promising that they would donate to each person's favourite charity, resulting in over two hundred different charities receiving money from the film project.

"The major problem we encountered was the size of our film unit. We couldn't just go in and shoot and come out. We were everywhere. Filming on the London streets has to be done in such a way that it comes up to health and safety standards. There is no such thing as a road closure. We were very lucky in the fact that we had 100% cooperation from the police and the Council. They looked favorably on what we were trying to do and how it would promote the area."
— Sue Quinn

The film's production designer was Stuart Craig who was pleased for the chance to do a contemporary film, stating on the film "we're dealing with streets with thousands of people, market traders, shop owners and residents which makes it really complex". Filming began on 17 April 1998, in both West London and at Shepperton Studios. Will's bookshop was situated on Portobello Road, which was one of the main areas in which filming took place. Other places within Notting Hill where filming took place included Westbourne Park Road, Golborne Road, Landsdowne Road and the Coronet Cinema. After filming for a period of six weeks in Notting Hill, filming moved to the Ritz Hotel, where filming had to take place at night, the Savoy Hotel, the Nobu Restaurant, the Zen Garden of the Hempel Hotel and Kenwood House. One the film's final scenes takes place at a film premiere, which presented difficulties for the production team. Michell wanted to film the scene in Leicester Square, but the request was declined. Police had found the fans at a recent Leonardo DiCaprio premiere problematic, and the police were concerned the same problems might occur at the staged premiere. Through a health and safety act, the production received permission to film and constructed the scene in just twenty-four hours. Interior scenes were the last scenes to be filmed, with them taking place at Shepperton Studios. After filming was completed, the final cut of the film was three and a half hours long, with ninety minutes of footage being edited out for the film's release.

The film features the 1950 Marc Chagall painting La Mariée. In the story, Anna sees a print of the painting in William's home, and later gives him what is presumably the original. According to director Michell in an article in Entertainment Weekly, the painting was chosen because screenwriter Curtis was a fan of Chagall's work, and because La Mariée "depicts a yearning for something that's lost." The producers had a reproduction made for use in the film, but had to first get permission from the painting's owners as well as clearance from the British Design and Artists Copyright Society. Finally, according to producer Kenworthy, "we had to agree to destroy it. They were concerned that if our fake was too good, it might float around the market and create problems." The article also noted that "some experts say the real canvas could be worth between $500,000 and $1 million.

Music for the film was composed by Trevor Jones. Several additional songs written by other artists appeared on the film's soundtrack. These include Elvis Costello's cover of the Charles Aznavour song "She", as well as Ronan Keating's specially recorded cover version of "When You Say Nothing at All"; the song reached number one in the British charts. Originally, Charles Aznavour's version of "She" was used in the film, but American test screening audiences did not respond to it. Costello was then brought in by Richard Curtis to record a cover version of the song. Both versions of the song appear in non-U.S. releases.

Reception

The film was met with generally positive reviews, scoring an 85% "Certified Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Variety's Derek Elley said that "It's slick, it's gawky, it's 10 minutes too long, and it's certainly not "Four Weddings and a Funeral Part 2" in either construction or overall tone", giving it an overall positive review. Cranky Critic called it "Bloody damned good", as well as saying that it was "A perfect date flick. Nitrate said that "Notting Hill is whimsical and light, fresh and quirky", with "endearing moments and memorable characters". In his review of the film's DVD John J. Puccio noted that "the movie is a fairy tale, and writer Richard Curtis knows how much the public loves a fairy tale", calling it "a sweet film". Desson Howe of the Washington Post gave the film a very positive review, particularly praising Rhys Ifans' performance as Spike. James Sanford gave Notting Hill three and a half stars, saying that "Curtis' dialogue may be much snappier than his sometimes dawdling plot, but the first hour of Notting Hill is so beguiling and consistently funny it seems churlish to complain that the rest is merely good. Sue Pierman of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stated that "Notting Hill is clever, funny, romantic - and oh, yes, reminiscent of Four Weddings and a Funeral", but that the film "is so satisfying, it doesn't pay to nitpick. Roger Ebert praised the film, saying "the movie is bright, the dialogue has wit and intelligence, and Roberts and Grant are very easy to like. Kenneth Turan gave a good review, concluding that "the film's romantic core is impervious to problems". CNN reviewer Paul Clinton said that Notting Hill "stands alone as another funny and heartwarming story about love against all odds".

Widgett Walls of Needcoffee.com gave the film "three and a half cups of coffee", stating that "the humor of the film saves it from a completely trite and unsatisfying (nay, shall I say enraging) ending", but criticised the film's soundtrack. Dennis Schwartz gave the film a negative review with a grade of "C-" citing "this film was pure and unadulterated balderdash". Some people criticised the film for giving a "sweetened unrealistic view of London life and British eccentricity.

Notting Hill was placed 95th on the British Film Institute's "list of the all-time top 100 films", the results of the list were based on estimates of each film's British cinema admission level.

The film had its world premiere at the Odeon, Leicester Square on 27 April 1999. Notting Hill charted well at the box office, earning $116,089,678 as its overall domestic gross, with a worldwide gross of $363,889,678. It totaled $27.7 million over its opening weekend, breaking American box office records, and making it the biggest ever opening for a romantic comedy film at that point, beating previous record holder My Best Friend's Wedding. Notting Hill made another $15 million the following week, but then began to lose out. One month after its release, Notting Hill lost its record for highest grossing opening weekend for a romantic comedy film to Runaway Bride. It was the sixteenth highest grossing film of 1999, and as of May 2007 is the 104th highest grossing film of all time. At the time, it had become the highest grossing British film of all time.

Notting Hill won the Audience Award for Most Popular Film at the BAFTAs in 2000, and was nominated in the categories of The Alexander Korda Award for Outstanding British Film of the year, and Best Performance by an Actor in a supporting role for Rhys Ifans. The film also won Best Comedy Film at the British Comedy Awards. The film's soundtrack won Best Soundtrack at the Brit Awards, beating Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The film won Best British Film, Best British Director for Roger Michell, and Best British Actor for Hugh Grant at the Empire Awards. The film received three nominations at the Golden Globes, in the categories Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical, Best Motion Picture Actor - Comedy/Musical for Hugh Grant, and Best Motion Picture Actress - Comedy/Musical for Julia Roberts.

References

External links

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