Cheerio, welcome to another Remote Rewind! I’m your correspondent from Horse & Hound magazine reporting today on Notting Hill. This classic 1998 rom-com has a smattering of horses and no hounds to speak of, which will be a crushing blow to our readership, but we’ll muddle through somehow.
In retrospect, it’s remarkable—but unsurprising—that writer Richard Curtis sets Notting Hill‘s penultimate scene, one of the most romantic ever put to film, at a press conference. I speak from years of experience in the hallowed field of equestrian journalism when I assure you few things are less romantic than a press conference. Of course, one shouldn’t be surprised that Curtis makes this choice; this is the same person who began Love, Actually by waxing rhapsodic about airports. The man loves chaotic crowded spaces! Let him live! I’m only a few days into isolation and I’m just about jonesing for a junket. But the irony of Notting Hill is that for all the very public romantic gestures, the heart of the film lies in quiet moments behind closed doors at home.
When we first meet William Thacker (Hugh Grant, winning and foxy at his pre-Paddington peak), he does not have an ideal home life. After a divorce, he’s holed up in a Notting Hill house with Spike (Rhys Ifans), his artist roommate who doesn’t understand boundaries or subtlety. It’s a stereotypical bachelor pad in so many ways—food everywhere, clothes strewn about—but it does have nice touches like plenty of light and a framed art print above the dining room table. Anyone who has ever dated someone who lived in splendid squalor knows that in terms of art, you’re lucky if the Scarface poster had enough thumbtacks to keep it from drooping, so this is tantamount to luxury.
Watching Notting Hill at this moment, I couldn’t help but feel pity for all those people stuck at home with Spikes of their own—weird roommates they normally only see in passing who are now eating cereal and smoking in the living room 24/7. You’re in my prayers. Of course, at one point, Spike, having failed to do his laundry, opts to throw on a full scuba suit, including goggles, and I thought, “Oh, that looks like a fun work-from-home ensemble!” so maybe I’m the Spike. I’m in my prayers, too.
Pictured: me on a Zoom conference call.
The introduction of movie star Anna Scott (a luminous and serene Julia Roberts) transforms William’s life and also his living situation. But it isn’t some sort of Mary Poppins quick-tidying magic. Instead, the home that once seemed disheveled and temporary becomes inviting and warm. And, most of all, safe.
This doesn’t come easy. Anna’s fame is the complicating factor throughout the movie, the thing that must be overcome; it’s a stroke of genius that Curtis and Roberts never let the glow of Hollywood stardom present a beguiling alternative. William may be struck dumb in Anna’s presence, but he doesn’t want to join Anna’s world. Initially, she doesn’t want to join his, either. After crash-inviting Anna to his sister’s birthday party, William tentatively invites her back to his place. “Do you want to…?” he starts. “My place is just…” She cuts him off: “Too complicated.” (By the by, this is also a conversation happening in Tinder chats the nation over right now. My prayers are with you all, too. Stay home!)
However, when revealing photos of Anna get splashed across the British tabloids, she retreats to the safety of William’s house and they begin a period of blissful quarantine—practicing lines on the roof, reading on adjacent couches, eating ice cream while talking about stunt-double butts. I had remembered this sequence as lasting days or a week, but it’s only 24 hours. For all of our sakes, let’s mentally rewrite it: Hugh and Julia spend months lazing about in a pristine white bed, bantering and grinning widely. It’s canon now. ::bangs gavel::
This leisurely idyll, away from Hollywood and seemingly separate from the charming streets of Notting Hill, is the heart of the film. It’s the moment we become sure William and Anna could and should be together despite coming from different worlds. The fact that William runs a travel bookshop in some hands would suggest a character aching to break free and see the world. But he’s actually a homebody who meets a kindred spirit. I can imagine them gleefully cancelling plans and ignoring phone calls together for the rest of their lives. And, truly, what’s more romantic than that?
Even the movie itself seems to invite you to cuddle up on the couch and breathe slowly for once. The most surprising pleasure of rewatching Notting Hill, for me, was getting reacquainted with how calmly it’s paced. This stands out particularly in comparison to You’ve Got Mail, yesterday’s Rewind, which is all snappy dialogue and quirky characters. In Notting Hill, the frantic charm of Hugh Grant collides with the confident appeal of Julia Roberts at her stillest, resulting in long moments of silence, an abundance of pauses, and a climax where the two just grin at each other for minutes. Multiple minutes! Of smiling! Can you imagine?! They’re in my prayers.