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The purpose of film is to entertain, to make the audience enjoy what they are seeing, and to be empathetic towards the characters. One of the best genres for that feel-good feeling is romantic comedy…a genre that does what it says on the tin, mixing it bit of loving with a bit of humour to create a tasty mix - although of course sometimes it doesn’t live up to expectations if the film possesses a poor script, poor direction or poor performances.

So here is Notting Hill: penned by the guy (Richard Curtis) behind Four Weddings and a Funeral and starring Hugh Grant, who was also involved with Four Weddings and a Funeral. After the success it enjoyed, will Notting Hill replicate it, or perhaps even amplify it?

The Film
William Thacker (Hugh Grant) is the owner of a bookshop in the heart of Notting Hill in London. One day, by a one-in-a-million chance, the world's most famous actress, Anna Scott (Julia Roberts), comes into his shop. He watches in amazement as she leaves and he thinks he'll never see her again. But fate intervenes - and minutes later William collides with Anna on Portobello Road: so begins a tale of romance and adventure in London.

With a little help from his chaotic flatmate Spike (Rhys lfans) and his old friends, Max and Bella (Tim McInnerny and Gina McKee), William seeks the face he can't forget…

Notting Hill

Notting Hill is a film that is light and easy-going from the off. From the delightful opening (Grant’s character doing a voiceover describing Notting Hill, accompanied by footage), throughout the various comical yet sometimes more sombre scenes, it is a delight to behold.

Hugh Grant shines in the lead role as William Thacker, creating laughs and pulling the viewer into his world, evoking empathy, and in some cases, sympathy. Starring opposite him is Julia Roberts, someone who in my mind is one of the finest actors of recent years, if not ever. This was pre-Oscar territory, but she still is radiant as celebrated film star Anna Scott. Special mention must also go to Rhys Ifans, playing a Welshman who is very naïve and well, a bit dim, with hilarious results.

The chemistry of the two leads is the main reason the film succeeds, but Curtis as ever is on fine form with his witty and involving writing. Roger Michell - who was in line to direct Captain Corelli’s Mandolin after this film but had to drop out due to health reasons (in the last shot of Notting Hill notice how Will is reading the novel to Anna…a message to Michell’s fans regarding his next project) - brightens up the screen with his innovative depiction of London life, as well as capturing some great shots to define the mood.

This is a film that has many things to pick up on that can be seen on later viewings, so the rewatchability level is very good. The guys will enjoy this for the laughs; the gals will enjoy it for both laughs and tissue moments.

A very accomplished film, with many highlights, whether comedic or otherwise. One of the best of its genre.

Notting Hill

Video
The film is presented in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; with the transfer clear, crisp and sharp. The print is obviously in very good condition to warrant the trademark DVD transfer, with no artefacts present and a wide palette with colours used well throughout. Outdoor scenes are vibrant and the varying colours are well defined, and with the interior scenes the colours are understandably more muted, but still deep and defined.

Audio
Audio comes in the form of Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), which is fairly good, but not great. This being a dialogue-driven film, the surrounds aren’t used that much, but the soundstage remains fairly ambient. The front channels are crisp and clear throughout, but again, the subwoofer isn’t used much either. Like I said, due to the nature of the film, this doesn’t bother me much at all, but perhaps during some of the music and some of the action (louder dialogue, crowd noise etc.) the soundtrack could be more wide-ranging and encompass a larger and better soundstage. Not bad though, just not quite as good as it could have been.

Notting Hill

Extras
Before I begin this section, I want to remind readers that the R1 version of Notting Hill is a two-disc collector’s edition. From the off, it is very evident that this is a one-disc release…but can the meat of the R1 extras make their way across the Pond? Or will we have our own set of good, comprehensive features?

Well, unfortunately, the best extra is probably A Travel Guide to Notting Hill, which is a simple feature that links to the various areas of the place in London, revealing details about that location on the way. Fairly boring and pointless - although tourists may get a kick of it.

Then there is a selection of cast & filmmakers biographies (do what they say on the tin…exactly the same as other releases with this extra) and production notes (fairly interesting, but printed as a booklet included in the package would have been better as reading small text of the screen isn’t exactly a wonderful experience).

A theatrical trailer completes the sparse package, and it is a fairly good one at that, condensing the feel of the film into a 2 minute clip.

It should also be mentioned that there is an easter egg present (thanks to Dave Beamish for pointing that out). If you select the alternative audio track on the disc, using your remote control - you can't access it from the disc's menu - you will actually get to hear Charles Aznavour's version of the opening song 'She' over the film's opening titles, rather than the newly recorded Elvis Costello version that appears on the film's original audio track.

The menus are animated well with music in the background, and animations rolling around the screen - clips from the film - and they are easy to navigate, albeit dressed up in the old Universal style of logos defining the type of selection.

Overall
Much has been said about this, with most people agreeing it is a breath of fresh air, with enjoyable performances and a winning story. And yes, adding my two cents into the ring, it is indeed all it’s cranked up to be.

Notting Hill

With great performances (Hugh and Julia do make a good couple), an enjoyable script and all the other elements gelling together smoother than Anglo-US relations, there is no reason as to why Notting Hill could be deemed a bad film. Predictable? Slightly. Bad? No way.

For those who are fans of flicks such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and similar rom-coms, then go into this expecting an enjoyable 120 minutes…you won’t be disappointed. For others, wanting a fun and engrossing film, expect it. By numbers.

No, it is not a classic. But yes, it is damn enjoyable and worthwhile. And as a testament to the skills of Grant and Roberts, they went onto accumulate such hits on their CV as Erin Brockovich, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Ocean’s Eleven, About A Boy and Two Weeks Notice…and of course the other people involved in the film haven’t exactly fallen into B-movie hell, either.

The DVD itself is quite good - strong video, fairly strong audio, but lacking extras. Pity that we didn’t get a release as good as our Yank counterparts, especially considering this is a British film!

Give it a rent at least, but like me, some people may want to go the extra mile and add it to their collection. It is certainly worth it.


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