With its endearing set of friends and an elusive golden girl, Notting Hill is what character Spike would describe as an ‘absolute classic’ in the world of British films.
Few people know the original script was quite different to the finished product though. William Thacker (Hugh Grant) was initially in love with two girls – superstar Anna Scott and a local shop girl called Honey (finally turned into William’s sister).
The change in plot, according to creator Richard Curtis, left a void any time Anna (Julia Roberts) was gone from Thacker’s life. This might be the reason behind the seasons sequence, which sees Grant’s character William walking through Portobello Road as the seasons change, to the melancholy tune of Ain’t No Sunshine.
Whilst many believe this scene skims through a year in Thacker’s life, in a later scene William apologises to his friends for being sulky “for the last six months.” Moreover, at the start of the long walk he passes by an obviously pregnant woman (script suggests six months along), who is, at the end of the scene, holding a baby of around three months.
Another little-known fact is that the ‘house with a blue door’ has not only been stripped of its original aperture (auctioned off, replaced by a black door and later painted blue again) but is also only shot from the outside. Its ‘interior’ was a set at Shepperton Studios which was nothing like the interior of the house that stands at 280, Westbourne Park Road.
Talking about location, one well-remembered scene in this film has to be Hugh’s “whoopsidaisy” moment as he tries, at first unsuccessfully, to break into the private communal gardens. Rosmead Gardens are actually there in the real Notting Hill area, on Rosmead Road in London W11 and in truth, the drop from the fence is much more intimidating and prohibitive.
The ‘authentic’ Chagall painting given to William by Anna is a replica of the painting, commissioned upon permission from the owner of the original and the relevant copyright society. The agreement stated that it must later be destroyed in case it was so good that its sale devalued the original!
Sixteen years later, the cast has moved on. Creator Curtis and Grant have made more films together but the writer/director’s latest biggie About Time (2013) does not star Hugh, who has now outgrown (even literally) the lovesick characters of Curtis’ scripts. Rhys Ifans, known for his role as the eccentric Welshman Spike who shares William’s flat, would subsequently play the part of a baddie in children’s fairytale Nanny McPhee Returns (2010). Meanwhile, the impressive Lord Grantham in the Downton Abbey series is none other than Bernie (Hugh Bonneville), the chubby loser friend from this 1999 film.