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24th April 2024

My formative film: A love letter to Notting Hill

How Richard Curtis’ film about a charming bookshop owner changed my view on romance films forever
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My formative film: A love letter to Notting Hill
Credit: Notting Hill @ Universal Pictures

The year is 2020. The world is in lockdown and my mum and I are having a movie night. It’s her turn to choose the film; she picks Notting Hill. I scanned the movie description: “Bookshop owner Hugh Grant forms an unlikely romance with superstar actress Julia Roberts in this hit Richard Curtis romcom.” Cue an almighty eye-roll. Up until this point, I had no interest in romantic films. Kissing? Disgusting. Romance? Gross. Let’s stop messing around and watch Dumb and Dumber, a true masterpiece. Little did I know that over the course of the next two hours and four minutes, Notting Hill would change my life forever.

Firstly, it introduced me to the powerhouse that is Julia Roberts. Julia, if you are reading this, I don’t care about the age difference, I want you to play me in my biopic. Everything about her performance as Anna Scott, the tremendous-but-troubled actress, is perfect and it is a privilege to watch her love story with Hugh Grant’s Will Thacker unfold. The pair have incredible chemistry and while Grant’s performance is “surreal but nice,” it is Roberts who steals the show.

The film begins with a ‘meet-cute’ between Anna and Will, a travel bookshop owner. There isn’t an immediate spark but that soon changes and you will be rooting for them in no time.  But as with all of the best love stories, there are obstacles that must be overcome before they can live happily ever after: he comes from Notting Hill, and she comes from Beverly Hills! She is recognised by everyone while his own mother struggles to remember his name. Can they work it out and stay together? Watch it and find out.

The supporting cast is what truly makes this film special. Rather than being bumbling idiots, like the supporting characters often found in American rom-coms, Will’s friendship group are amazing in their own right – and they actually behave like real people with brains! The late Emma Chambers (of Vicar of Dibley fame) is especially hilarious as Will’s younger sister, Honey.

Released in 1999, Notting Hill also showcases the best of the late ’90s fashion. Who can forget Roberts’ iconic leather jacket, Chanel beret and black sunglasses look? Let’s bring back berets in 2024. The showstopper for me, however, is the pale blue suit she wears during the press conference scene. If anyone can find a look-alike, it’s mine.

The final star of this film is the soundtrack. Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ plays during arguably the best scene of the entire film, in which we watch a heartbroken Will take a stroll through the Portobello Market while the seasons change. At the start of the scene, we see a pregnant lady browsing one of the market stalls, at the end of the scene she is holding her baby. We see Honey during the ‘honey’-moon phase of a relationship, then during a messy breakup. Not to be dramatic but it is a masterclass in cinema. An honourable mention goes to Al Green’s ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart’, which plays when Will experiences one of his many heartbreaks throughout the film.

For the haters out there, the film does raise some questions: how can Grant’s character afford to live in Notting Hill on the meagre wage of an independent bookshop owner? How does he effortlessly flit between Portobello Road and The Savoy? Does traffic not exist in this film? The answer is no: this is Richard Curtis’ London, a cleaner, less digested version of the city you know and love.

There are also issues concerning diversity: the main ensemble is completely white and, for a film so rooted in Notting Hill, there is no mention of the annual Notting Hill Carnival.

That said, I don’t watch this film for realism, I watch it for escapism, and it certainly does the trick. Notting Hill opened my eyes to the beauty of romance. To quote Ted Lasso, “I believe in communism. Rom-communism that is.” Admittedly, I have yet to experience a Notting Hill-esque romance first-hand but what are films for if not for living vicariously through them?

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