Notting Hill (film)

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NOTTING HILL

There is an area of London called Notting Hill. Notting Hill is a wealthy area just to the west of the city centre.

In 1999 a film was made by the renowned scriptwriter Richard Curtis. He imagined what it would be like to attend an ordinary dinner party and have the most famous person in the world walk in. Back then it was Madonna. That is the premise of the film.

Hugh Grant plays a humble man who runs a second hand bookshop in Notting Hill. He is at a dinner party when a world famous actress is invited. She is played by Julia Roberts.  People do not recognise the actress – they cannot believe someone so renowned would be there.

Hugh and Julia form a romantic relationship. They try to keep it secret. To get to see Julia Hugh pretends to be a journalist interviewing her. Hugh shares a flat with Rhys Ifans. Rhys finds out about the relationship. He tells all the neighbours. Next morning the press corps is camped on their doorstep.

Some of the locations can be seen in Notting Hill. The film is dated. There is no way a second hand book seller could afford to live in that area now.

In the film Dylan Morris plays a shoplifter. Hugh Bonneville has a small role.  Tim McInerny has a cameo.

 

Hugh Grant

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HUGH GRANT

In 1961 Hugh Grant was born. His father was an army officer. The Grants lived in the United Kingdom. Later they moved to Singapore for a few years. The British Army was there until 1970. Then they returned to the UK and Hugh’s father left the army.

The Grant family had lived in Scotland for centuries. Before that they had come from Normandy. The name was ‘Le Grand’ meaning ‘Big’. This was corrupted into ‘Grant’.

Hugh Grant’s father worked in business but never made much money. They lived in London. Hugh won a scholarship to Latymer Upper School. He excelled academically. He won a place at Oxford University.

At Oxford Hugh read English. He joined OUDS (Oxford University Dramatic Society). OUDS is an acronym so it is pronounced to rhyme with ‘clouds’. While Hugh was up a film called Privileged was made. It satirised upper class undergraduates. Hugh appeared in that film.

On going down from varsity Hugh fell into acting. In the 1980s the cost of living in London was much lower. The population was far lower than it is now. Rent was much lower. Therefore it was not so far for a jobbing actor to survive. Hugh got himself a theatrical agent. He went to castings. He was cast in a few minor roles. In between he did odd jobs to sustain himself. He worked as groundsman at Craven Cottage. That is the stadium of Fulham Football Club.

Hugh had a minor role in White Mischief. He also had a bit part in Remains of the Day based on the Kazuo Ishiguro novel. In 1987 he starred in Maurice. He plays Clive Durham. He acted opposite the man in the title role. Maurice is based on an E M Forster novel of the same name. It is set in Edwardian Britain. Maurice is an upper middle class boy. He goes to Cambridge University. There he finds himself romantically attracted to another undergraduate. The two youths form a homosexual relationship. Their behaviour is illegal and they must be discrete. They later leave Cambridge and drift apart. In the end Clive Durham decides that homosexuality was transient for him. Clive is elected to Parliament and he gets married. His former lover is devastated that Clive no longer desires him. Maurice then meets a working class man and forms a relationship with him. The film was highly controversial for its positive depiction of homosexuality. It came out at the height of the AIDS crisis.

In 1993 Hugh felt his career was going nowhere. He had never had a lead role in a major film. He was on the verge of chucking in acting. He was pondering a new career. Then he saw a script for Four Weddings and a Funeral. 

Hugh played the romantic lead in the film. It was an international smash hit. Soon he was the talk of the town.

Grant was effete and good looking. He seemed to be fastidious about his appearance. His centre parting was too fussy. He had convincingly played a homosexual in Maurice. Peopled wonder whether he was gay. He turned up at a film premier with his longtime girlfriend Liz Hurley. She wore a borrowed Versace dress. The decolletage put paid to any rumours that Hugh Grant was sexually attracted to males.

In the late 90s Hugh was one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. He starred in Mickey Blue Eyes which is a mafia comedy. He was in the Englishman who went up a hill but came down a mountain. In 1999 he starred in Notting Hill.

Hugh came to feel he was cast in the same sort of role all the time as a bumbling English hearthrob. In About a boy he played a different sort of character.

In Love Actually he played a prime minister based on Tony Blair. He also had a role in Sense and Sensibility. Hugh played major roles in the Bridget Jones films. In one he fights Colin Firth

Hugh split from Liz Hurley. She later wed a German-Indian millionaire. Hugh got married. He has three children but only one of them with his wife.

Hugh Grant had his phone hacked by the News of the World newspaper. Many celebrities suffered this. The people who broke into others phones to record their conversations were imprisoned.

Jane Austen

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JANE AUSTEN

Jane Austen was born in the United Kingdom in the late 18th century. She lived in south-east England her whole life. She hardly ever ventured beyond that corner of the country.

The Austen family was upper middle class. It was on the fringes of the gentry. British society was very stratified at the time. The king was at the top. Just below the royal family was the nobility. Noblemen had titles like ‘duke’ and ‘lord.’ Below the nobility were the gentry. The gentry were people who owned a lot of land. The Austen family aspired to be members of the gentry but did not have enough money. The nobility and gentry between them made up a tiny proportion of the population: perhaps 3%. The middle class made up perhaps 20% of the population. The Austens were the top end of middle class. They desperately wanted social promotion. Over 75% of people were working class. Most of them were poor. Many working class people were illiterate.

Jane was a very bookish child. Her family disapproved of her excessive erudition. It was off putting to suitors.

In those days almost everyone married. The legal age of marriage was 12. But very few people wed that young. Girls married from their mid teens to their early 20s. Males tended to marry anywhere from their late teens to late 20s. If a woman was unmarried at 25 people would say she was ‘an old maid’. In this case ‘maid’ meant ‘virgin’. She was seen to have failed. Very few men would be willing to marry a woman of that age.

Divorce was extremely rare back then. It was a very protracted and costly legal process. It was considered to be an utter disgrace. It did not matter is a woman’s husband committed adultery. If she divorced him she would be shamed too. Therefore a woman’s choice of husband was critical. She would probably marry only once.

Girls received less schooling than boys at the time. All higher education was closed to females. The jobs that women did were almost always worse paid than those men did. A woman was thus financially dependent on a man.

When Jane Austen reached the normal age for marriage about 16 she started going to balls. Dancing is a mating ritual. Dancing made it acceptable to touch the opposite sex. People could indicate how much they desired the other person.

In the 18th century a person would wink with the right eye to indicate ‘I am attracted to you.’ A person would wink with the left eye to say ‘I am not attracted to you.’ Some people have driver’s dyslexia and cannot tell left from right. They would get themselves in a sticky situation or indeed miss out on a golden opportunity.

Jane Austen lived with her parents after she reached adulthood. Her siblings wed. One of her brothers became an officer in the Royal Navy. She wrote frenetically. Her novels are The Watsons, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. 

Austen wrote whereof she knew. The locale of her oeuvre is always southern England. She focuses on the border between the middle class and the upper class. The themes are social climbing, money, snobbery, marriage, manners and familial reputation. These were all issues she had to tussle with.

On the marriage market people looked for money. Should a woman marry a wealthy man even if she dislikes him? Should a man wed an ugly woman who was given a handsome dowry? Did feelings matter? Austen believed that a woman needed to find a trade off between emotion and money when choosing a husband. It was foolish to say that money did not matter. Some people lived in abject penury at the time. There were beggars almost starving in the street. If she married a pauper she could end up like them.

A man proposed marriage to Jane. She accepted. She went to bed. The next morning she came down and told him that she had changed her mind.  She never wed. SOme believe that she was a lesbian.

In time she wrote was an epoch of rapid and sweeping change. She lived through the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and radical ferment in the UK. The Romantic  Movement flourished. The classics were the mainstay of education at the time. Yet her prose is sparse and bereft of Latin tags. She felt them pretentious. Her work is free of any ideological slant. She appeared to hold the Romantic Movement in contempt.

Austen moved to Winchester when she fell ill in her late 30s. She lived there a few weeks before dying.

 

 

 

Colin Firth

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COLIN FIRTH

Colin Firth was born in the UK in the 1960s. Both his parents were Christian ministers. That meant they were religious leaders. They became missionaries – they went abroad to evangelise for the faith.

Firth is English but he has Scottish ancestry. The surname ‘Firth’ is Scots. In Scotland ‘Firth’ is a ‘bay’. There are several areas of sea called a ‘firth’. These are Solway Firth, Moray Firth, The Firth of Forth and the Firth of Tay.

The Firth family did not have much money. In the UK the lived in rural Hampshire. People there had a faintly West Country accent. Colin spoke like this too. It was very different from the Standard British accent he has now.

When Colin grew up he decided he wanted to be an actor. He went to drama. He believed that his accent would be an impediment to his advancement. Therefore he cast off his accent and adopted Standard British.

In the 1980s he had a small role in Another Country. This was a Julian Mitchell play set in a fictive public school in the 1920s. He then struggled in his career. He had a small role playing a police officer in a series.

In the 1990s Firth came into his own. His breakout role was playing Fitzwilliam D’Arcy in Pride and Prejudice in 1995. This was a made for television film about the Jane Austen novel.

In 2003 Colin played a lead in Love, Actually. It was a worldwide sensation.

Colin is married to an Italian. They have two children. He lives in Chiswick, London.

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British films

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BRITISH FILMS

The United Kingdom was one of the first countries to make films in the 1890s. In those days the whole of Ireland was in the UK. A film was called a ‘picture’ back then. When a film was filmed it was said to be ‘shot’. People would say ‘I am shooting a film’. The physical material that the images were made on was called ‘film’. This had to be developed in a dark room. The film was then put into reels. A projector would project the image onto a screen. The room needed to be dark to see the film properly.

Actors had to use facial expression to show their emotions. These were silent films. The images were in black and white.

In the First World War propaganda films were made. They depicted the British are valiant and righteous. The UK’s enemies were shown to be cowardly and unrighteous.

Some film cameras were sent to the battlefront. They filmed some live action scenes of British soldiers charging towards enemy trenches. The German soldiers fired back and of course some Britishers were killed. The government ordered this film to be shown in cinemas thinking it would boost public morale. But when the film was shown in cinemas peopled shouted ”they are being killed!”. The public was horrified by the reality of war.

In the 1920s film started to get sound. The actors in film were used to acting in the theatre. They therefore projected their voices. The acting comes across as very shouty.

The British style of acting then seems melodramatic now. They speech appears to be stylised declamation to us.

A 1920s film called Ypres was made. It was about the Battle of Ypres in the First World War. People were fed up of war so the film bombed at the box office.

In the 1930s the UK made some classic films about famous British stories. Mutiny on the Bounty was made. It is a lavish film about a true story of British sailors rebelling against their cruel captain. Some Robin Hood films were made. There was an adventure story. The Sheriff of Nottingham is the anti-hero of the film. Sanders of the River was a film about a British colonial administrator. It presents colonialism as positive.

The Drum is another 1930s British film. The locale is India. A young Indian is fiercely loyal to the Britons. He discovers a plot to rebel against the Britishers. So he warns them and saves them.

The Lives of the Bengal Lancers is another British film of this era. It is about a regiment of the Indian Army. The soldiers are Indian but the officers are British. It is set in the North-West Frontier of India. This is now called Pakistan. The film is fast moving but the characterisation is monodimensional.

In the Second World War there were many propaganda films. One of these was In which we serve which is about the Royal Navy. Jack Hawkins, Stanley Baker and Noel Coward were in it. Coward wondered whether he was suitable to play a naval officer. He had a reputation for living in opulence. He wore a silk dressing gown and smoked cigarettes through a cigarette holder. But Coward performed admirably. The film went down a storm. He played a married man with children though in fact he was gay. In the film a British warship is sunk by a U boat. Another British warship is nearby. The captain is Jack Hawkins. He knows he must destroy the U boat with depths charges or it will sink his ship. But there are British sailors in the water – they are survivors of the sunken ship. Should be launch the depths charges and kill the British sailors while also sinking the U boat. The captain does so. As the depths charges explodes one of his own men shouts at him ”you bastard!”. It was a powerful moment. There was no swearing on British films until that moment.

In 1945 a film called Brief Encounter was released. It starred Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. Celia plays a middle class housewife. She has an agreeable but dull life. She meets a doctor played by Trevor at the station. He is also married. The two begin an affair but it only goes so far. Should she leave her boring husband? In the end she decides to stay. The war was still on when the film came out. People were so fed up of the war that the film hardly alludes to it.

In the 1950s lots of Ealing comedies were produced. They were made in Ealing Studios, London. That is why these funny films are called Ealing comedies. They are about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. In Passport to Pimlico a small London suburb declares independence. After a few weeks Pimlico becomes part of the UK again.

Another Ealing comedy is The Ladykillers. A few thieves hatch a plot to steal millions of pounds from a train. They rent a room from an old woman. In this room they plan their crime. They tell the woman that they are practising the violin for their string quintet whenever she comes to check on them. The thieves successfully effect the robbery. They get the money back to the house. They die one by one by falling out of the window and things. The elderly woman finds the money. She tells a police officer that she has found millions of pounds in her house. The police officer assumes that the old woman has lost her mind and that no such money exists. He tells her she can keep the money. So she does.

In the 1960s many Carry On films were made. They are known as Carry On because the titles are Carry on Camping, Carry On Teacher, Carry On up the Khyber, Carry On Caesar etc… The expression ”carry on” means ”continue”. These are are lighthearted and farcical. There is some suggestive mirth in them. The characters are all straightforward and mostly sympathetic. The acting is deliberately overstated and there are plenty of double entendre. For example ”khyber” is Cockney rhyming slang for ”bottom” or ”buttocks”. The stars of these films included Kenneth Williams, Sid James and Barbara Windsor. Sid James played lecherous characters. He was type cast because in real life he was the same. Barbara Windsor often played a ingenue.

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Hollywood

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HOLLYWOOD

Hollywood is a town in California, USA. This town is named after a place in Northern Ireland.

The weather is Hollywood is very good with 330 days of sunshine. It is in the hills above Los Angeles. So it is cooler than the city. You can drive to the beach in an hour or to the mountains to ski.

In the early 20th century this town became a centre for making films. The weather attracted people. Light was a huge issue for early film makers. In California the weather is very predictable. Clouds and rain could ruin a day of filming and drive up costs. Films were silent back then.

By the time of the First World War in 1914 Hollywood was already become established as the foremost place for film production in the United States. Charlie Chaplin moved there.

On the hillside above Hollywood someone put up a sign in huge letters reading Hollywoodland. The ‘land’ part was later removed. The sign is world famous.

Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and MGM all set up studios around there. There are the main film production companies.

MGM stands for Metro Goldwyn Mayer. This is because Mr Goldwyn and Mr Mayer founded it. Metro is short for ‘metropolis’ which means ‘big city’.

One film studio had a lion roaring in its opening credits. It was a  Dublin Zoo lion. The slogan of this film company is the Latin words ‘ars gratia artis’. This translates ‘art for the sake of art’. As in they make films because they want to produce a splendid work of art. They do not do it for money or popularity. The quality of their work matters most.

The Oscars

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THE OSCARS

The most famous film award series in the world is the Oscars. The proper name is the Academy Awards. The Oscars began in the 1920s. At a hotel in Hollywood, California the Oscars were held in a hotel ballroom. It was a small affair. Hollywood had only been a centre for films for 20 years at that time.

The Oscars rapidly grew in popularity. Soon the media were reporting the ceremony prominently. A film academy was established to judge the films. Before long actors and actresses, film directors and everyone in the film industry wanted to be involved.

The Film Academy views all the films that have come out that year. They vote to nominate actors, films, scores and so on. Five individuals or films get into each category.  In the Oscars they refer to films as ‘pictures’. When films were invented people called them ‘motion pictures.’

British people say ‘film’. American people say ‘movie’. British people watch a film in a cinema. Americans watch a movie in a movie theatre. It is a movie because it was called a ‘moving picture’ sometimes. The art of film-making is ‘cinematography’.

There are awards in lots of different categories. There is best actor and best female actor. There is best male actor in a supporting role. There is best female actor in a supporting role. There are others such as best director, best original score (i.e. music composed specifically for that film).  There is best foreign language picture i.e. not in English. The grandest award of all is best picture.

Sometimes there are awards for lifetime achievement. One of these went to Charlie Chaplin.

The Oscars are hosted by men and women in evening dress. Men wear a dinner jacket (tuxedo). A lady wears an evening dress. They speak to the audience and entertain them. Sometimes they call other people on stage to give a brief speech before announcing the winner.  There will be a clip of the five nominated films or actors. The announcer will be handed an envelope. He or she will open it and say ‘and the winner is’ before pausing and then saying the name.

When a person has his or her name called out the person goes up on stage to give a speech. Until the 1970s they could sent a proxy to collect it on their behalf. This was forbidden after Marlon Brando did it.

People are allowed two minutes for an acceptance speech. They often thank people profusely. A few are witty. Some weep and others are left speechless. An award winner often says ‘I do not deserve this.’ Political speeches are not allowed. When Michael Moore won an award and delivered a rant against George W Bush the music was played to drown out his oration.

The awards go mainly to Americans. The other nationalities who win are British, Canadian or French. Almost no one of any other nationality has won. Even the Irish actors who have won such as Daniel Day-Lewis is a British citizen.

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