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Tuesday, April 27, 1999 Published at 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK


Film Review: Notting Hill

Hugh Grant returns to screens as the star of Notting Hill

By BBC News Online's Bella Hurrell

The year was 1994 and white weddings were back in style. Bridal outfitters everywhere blessed Hugh Grant and the film Four Weddings and a Funeral for injecting romance into the cynical 1990s.

Now the self-deprecating English gentleman is back in the follow-up film Notting Hill. The bittersweet romantic comedy is not a sequel but it does portray the same sort of mildly eccentric Brits that the rest of the world - particularly America - seems to find so amusing.

[ image: Julia Roberts as movie star Anna Scott keeping a low profile]
Julia Roberts as movie star Anna Scott keeping a low profile
Written by Richard Curtis, famous for his UK comedies like Blackadder, the film is a feelgood summer movie and likely to put Notting Hill indelibly on the tourist map.

Grant plays William Thacker, a bumbling, shy but essentially good sort of chap with a winsome smile.

Thacker is the owner of a rundown bookshop in trendy Notting Hill. Into his life walks movie star Anna Scott (Julia Roberts). A complicated romance ensues with Thacker falling for Scott, and vice versa. Despite the "she loves me, she loves me not" vacillation, a happy ending is never really in doubt.

[ image: The film is likely to put Notting Hill firmly on London's tourist map]
The film is likely to put Notting Hill firmly on London's tourist map
Notting Hill is less frothy than its successful predecessor and its characters a little more down on their luck. In an after-dinner game where each guest relates their failings, one describes the unsuccessful Thacker as 'used to be handsome but now a bit squishy round the edges'.

The film also deals with the nature of fame. Roberts' Anna Scott, who is hounded by the British tabloids, spends much of her time trying to avoid scandal. She angrily comments that yesterday's news is never forgotten, it just goes into a cuttings file to resurface again and again - a point that has particular resonance for Grant after his 1995 arrest in Hollywood.

[ image: Rhys Ifans as Spike, Grant's slobbish flatmate]
Rhys Ifans as Spike, Grant's slobbish flatmate
Overshadowing Grant and Roberts, the real star of the film is Thacker's slobbish Welsh flatmate Spike, played by Rhys Ifans. Spike spends most of the film lounging around in his greying underwear contemplating life from a pile of pizza boxes and offering sage advice in a hammy Welsh lilt.

Even now, the men's nylon Y-front industry is doubtless rubbing its hands together at the merchandising possibilities.

Notting Hill is released in UK cinemas on 28 May.

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