Film of the Week

Notting Hill, STV, 10.35pm

I HAVE, to be honest, some issues with Richard Curtis. Perhaps some of them are the same as yours.

I’m not keen on the blandness, the mainstream obviousness, the very Vicar-of-Dibleyness of so much of what he does. I can probably do without his use of bumbling uselessness as a measure of desirability (it frankly hasn’t ever helped me very much in that regard), and I get annoyed with his obsession with America that is constantly moving between wet-lipped adoration and snidey one-upmanship. And don’t get me started on his portrayal of women in his movies.

And yet, and yet, I am here to tell you that I love Notting Hill, that I think it’s a lovely, moving and passably funny film that gets me every time I sit down to watch it. To tell you that it’s one of those very rare things, a decent British romantic comedy.

There are some people who prefer its predecessor, Four Weddings and a Funeral, because it’s more serious or something (the funeral bit, I guess). Some people even like Love Actually which seems to me one of the most detestable movies of the last 20 years. The fact that Curtis himself directed that one may have something to do with my distaste for it (though the movie’s misogyny is the bigger crime).

But Notting Hill is sweet and watchable, despite all the Curtisms; the clumsy humour, the supporting cast of irritating characters (with the exception of Tim McInnerny and Gina McKee who make their cartoon outlines into real people).


There are some who get upset with its romanticised and, let’s face it, white, middle-class vision of Notting Hill itself. But Curtis is a white middle-class writer who reflects the world he knows in his writing. That his Notting Hill doesn’t feature people of colour or the Notting Hill Carnival is not really a surprise. He sticks to his lane in the same way Ken Loach does.

And so, what he gives us is the meet cute of a bumbling English bookseller played, inevitably, by Hugh Grant and the American superstar played by a proper American superstar in the shape of Julia Roberts. They meet up, drift apart, meet up again, fall out and then …

Listen, I know Notting Hill can be as cheesy as any other Richard Curtis movie, but it has three key advantages. Hugh Grant is clearly one. These days we like Grant in his postwar cad persona, the smiling villain he played in Paddington 2 and as Jeremy Thorpe in Russell T Davies’s A Very English Scandal.

But he’d played that role before, as the theatre director in An Awfully Big Adventure which he made between Four Weddings and Notting Hill. Which should remind us that the floppy-haired, sweary posh Englishman that became his trademark is also him playing a role. And in Notting Hill he is very good at it.

The film also benefits from the grace notes of its director Roger Michell. He’s at his most show-offy in that beautifully staged continuous tracking shot in which Grant walks down the Portobello Market which takes us through autumn, winter and spring. But there’s also a reverse track from a closing door that is as eloquent – at the very least - as any of Curtis’s dialogue.

And then there’s Julia Roberts, here blazing at full intensity. Nothing wrong with Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings, but next to Roberts’ star wattage she is shining from a distant galaxy.

The film of course is a disquisition on stardom and fame and its unreality. It has modest things to say about the subject, but it wouldn’t have any traction at all if it wasn’t Roberts speaking the lines.

For these things I can forgive Notting Hill having Ronan Keating on the soundtrack. I can forgive Rhys Ifans’s face-pulling (which made him a star to be fair). I can ignore the silliness of the climactic press conference. Or rather I can embrace them all.

It’s a romantic comedy. Silliness is part of the formula. It’s a bit like asking the heroines of horror movies not to go down the darkened corridor. Without it, do we even have a movie?


Anyway, my favourite bit is when Grant, wearing his prescription goggles because he can’t find his glasses, goes to the movies to watch his film star crush in her latest sci-fi movie. And as she walks down a corridor in space the image begins to tilt and twist, and Roberts looks like a star even in a terrible red bob wig. It’s a lovely, lovelorn moment, a dreamy scene that is infatuated with Roberts and with cinema. A reminder that we fall in love at the movies. Notting Hill knows that. It’s why it works despite everything.


The Counsellor, GREAT! movies, 9pm

Ridley Scott's thriller, written by Cormac McCarthy no less, was largely dismissed when it was released in 2013, but there has been something of a nreconsideration of its merits going on recently  It's a dark, nihilistic crime story which features Michael Fassbender as a lawyer who represents drug dealers. He makes the mistake of taking a more active role in their activities, and soon finds himself dangerously out of his depth. Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt co-star, but it's Cameron Diaz in a darker role than usual who catches the eye. Anyone else want to see her have a go at Lady Macbeth?


12 Angry Men, Film4, 5.05pm

The classic Hollywood liberal drama. Henry Fonda heads the cast as Juror Number Eight, who faces the seemingly impossible task of changing the minds of the 11 other men on a hung jury. Lee J Cobb, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman, Ed Begley, EG Marshall and Jack Warden co-star in Sidney Lumet's directorial debut.


Florence Foster Jenkins, BBC4, 8pm

Hugh Grant again. This time he's providing reliable support for Meryl Streep in the title role in this true-life comedy drama. Streep plays an American heiress who attempts to launch a career as an operatic singer without the talent to back it up. Grant ably plays her husband. Yes, he gets to dance in this Stephen Frears movie.


Braveheart, Channel 5, 10pm

Hmm. Can we now admit it's not very good. Mel Gibson's historical drama is a spectacle that delivers on the violence and sadism, but doesn't have much room for subtlety or finesse. Still, it has a glowering impact, I suppose.


Channel 4, 12.10am

If it’s laughs you want then Paul Feig’s Spy is for you. Melissa McCarthy plays the desk jockey who is promoted to action heroine and she’s great. But watch it for Jason Statham sending up his hard man persona with poker-faced joy.