Notting Hill movie full length review - Warm and Human British Comedy
Notting Hill is a district of west London that was built as a fashionable Victorian suburb, became very run down during the mid twentieth century and is now once again fashion
able, but which retains a distinctly cosmopolitan atmosphere, with London's biggest street market and many small specialist shops. (My wife and I sometimes go there to shop for bargains). The hero of the film, William Thacker, is the owner of one of these shops, a travel bookshop. The film concerns the romance which develops between William and a young woman named Anna Scott whom he meets when she comes into his shop.
As another reviewer has pointed out, 'Notting Hill' is based around a theme, love between people of unequal social standing, which has provided literature with some of its greatest works, both comic and serious, dating back at least to the tale of King Cophetua and the beggar-maid. Although many of these stories tell of a poor but honest lad who aspires to the hand of a princess or titled lady, Anna is not part of the Royal Family or the British aristocracy. She rather belongs to an even more exclusive elite, the Hollywood starocracy. She is a hugely popular film star who earns at least $15,000,000 per film, and pops into William's shop during a brief stay in London to publicise her latest movie.
Although Anna is played by a real-life Hollywood superstar, Julia Roberts, the film is very typically British. William is similar to an number of other Hugh Grant characters, being a shy, diffident middle-class Englishman, probably public-school and university educated. (Despite this background, he is not particularly wealthy following a divorce from his first wife and is forced to share his lodgings with an eccentric Welsh flatmate, Spike). The humour of the film, particularly the dinner-party banter between William and his friends, is mostly of the typically ironic, self-deprecating variety popular in Britain, especially in middle-class circles. Rhys Ifans's Spike, by contrast, typifies another strand of British humour, the eccentric zaniness found in the likes of 'Monty Python'. Spike's strong provincial accent suggests a more working-class background; this possibly accounts for the teasing that he has to put up with from the other characters, although he takes it all in good part.
William may be diffident, self-deprecating and unsuccessful, but he is probably the stronger of the two main characters. Anna is beautiful and successful, but underneath it all she is insecure, worried about losing her fame and fortune and about her inability to form lasting relationships with men. Early on in the film she has another boyfriend, Jeff, but it is clear that he is only the latest in a long string of unsatisfactory romances which have left her emotionally (and in some cases physically) bruised. The scene where Anna says to William 'I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her' is the one where we see her at her most vulnerable. Although both characters are in their late twenties or thirties, it is noteworthy that Anna refers to 'girl and boy' rather than 'woman and man'. Anna's vulnerability also comes through in her reaction in the scene where hordes of paparazzi appear on William's doorstep; William tries to play down the incident, and Spike finds it hugely amusing, but Anna is horrified. (The film was made shortly after the death of Princess Diana; this scene possibly reflects British disgust with the antics of the paparazzi, who were regarded as being partly to blame for the Princess's death). Like others, I found myself wondering how much Anna's personality reflects Julia Roberts's own; she too has had a number of unhappy relationships.
Important roles are also played by Tim McInnerny and Gina McKee as William's best friend Max and his disabled wife Bella; the love of this ordinary couple for each other provides a more realistic, down-to-earth counterpart to the fairy-tale romance of William and Anna, helping to anchor the film more firmly in reality. The main charm, however, lies in the relationship of the two main characters, as Anna comes to realise that the seemingly ordinary William has a kindness and decency which count for more than the monstrous egos of Jeff and his like. Like 'Four Weddings and a Funeral', which was also written by Richard Curtis and starred Hugh Grant, 'Notting Hill' is one of the warmest and most human British films of the nineties. 7/10