Roger Mitchell’s Notting Hill (1999) is an adroit and playful ‘what if’ romantic English farce carried off to riotous perfection. After Hugh Grant's overwhelming success in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) scenarist Richard Curtis penned this story with Grant firmly in mind. There was no trouble in convincing Universal to invest in the property. Grant had already become an international celebrity.
For Notting Hill, Curtis wanted and got America’s favorite sweetheart, Julia Roberts as Anna Scott – a world renown Hollywood actress whose arrival in England for her latest film project is met with considerable enthusiasm from the paparazzi and fans.
To break up the monotony of a film shoot and escape unwanted adulation from her fans, Anna disguises herself in a hat and dark glasses to explore London. She stumbles upon the Travel Book Shop run by William Thacker (Grant) who recognizes her instantly but keeps it all to himself. For his discretion, Anna invites Will to dinner.
For Anna, the association is purely platonic. However, William finds it increasingly difficult to separate his infatuation for the cinematic Anna with his growing romantic intentions directed at the real flesh and blood person – an entanglement complicated when Anna takes William to bed. “The fame thing isn’t real, you know,” Anna tells William, and for a while at least, that much seems to hold true for their relationship.
As the film shoot progresses, Anna becomes a prominent park of William’s life. She is introduced to his ‘flat mate’ – the socially unhinged and goofy, Spike (Rhys Ifans); William’s dotty sister, Honey (Emma Chambers), and married couple Bella (Gina McKee) and Max (Tim McInnerny). But is the relationship between William and Anna destined for greater things or merely a passing fancy in the pop-culture parade of a superficial movie star?
The screenplay by Curtis keeps the audience guessing throughout the film. Like William, we’re not entirely certain of Anna’s intensions and are even less assured that such a relationship could ever work out between two people from such diametrically opposite strata of life.
Universal Home Video’s DVD transfer is quite impressive; anamorphic widescreen with vibrant colors, solid contrast levels and fine details nicely realized throughout. Flesh tones are natural in appearance. A fine amount of digital grit is apparent throughout, but nothing that will terribly distract. There’s also a hint of pixelization in certain scenes that breaks apart background information. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and adequate for this dialogue driven story.
Given that Universal has labeled Notting Hill as a Collector’s Edition, extras are disappointing. No ‘making of’ documentary or even featurette, just a ‘movie tips’ segment from Hugh Grant and an informative audio commentary. There’s also several essay sections to indulge in and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)