Wednesday, 25 February 2015

LOVE AMONG THE BOOKSHELVES: NOTTING HILL



Released in 1999 and one of a series of films by the writer Richard Curtis, the romantic comedy Notting Hill, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, was both set in and filmed around the London district of the same name.  The uber-cool shops, restaurants and cafes of this sought-after part of London provided the perfect backdrop for this tale of a romance between book shop owner Will Thacker (Grant) and a very famous American film actress called Anna Scott (Roberts).  The unlikely pair gradually fall for each other in spite of Will's modest way of life, which includes sharing a flat with the revolting Spike (hilariously portrayed by Rhys Ifans). 

One of the most famous attractions in Notting Hill is the Portobello Road Market.  Number 142 Portobello Road was used in the film to portray Will's shop, while in real life it was the site of an antiques arcade, although it has since changed hands.  Will gets off to a bad start with Anna when he upsets orange juice over her white t-shirt: the coffee shop where he buys the orange juice is at 303 Westbourne Park Road, which is now a barber's.  The entrance to Will's flat features in one of the film's funniest moments when the papparazzi  turn up in search of Anna Scott, only to be confronted with a half-naked Spike flexing his dubious muscles.  The actual location of the blue doorway as seen in the film is at 280 Westbourne Park Road, which was once the home of Richard Curtis.  The blue door used in the film was removed and auctioned off as people kept turning up and leaving graffiti on it.  The scenes showing Will relaxing on his roof terrace were filmed at 113 Portobello Road, which is currently an art shop which forms part of the the Antique Arcade.  

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Portobello Road. Photo by Albeins, via Wikimedia Commons
Will has a restaurateur friend called Tony, whose establishment is represented by a location at 105 Golborne Road; this is now a card, poster and gift shop.  In one scene, Will is shown going to see one of Anna's films in a lovely old cinema, the cinema in question being the Coronet Cinema, a fabulous confection of neoclassical features and one of Notting Hill's most iconic buildings.  In another scene, after a dinner at the house of Will's friends Bella and Max, which was filmed on location at 91 Lansdowne Road, Will and Anna break into a private communal garden.  The gardens used for the scene were Rosemead Gardens, part of a residential area called the Ladbroke Estate right in the heart of Notting Hill.  Such expensive living spaces are typical of the area, and were hilariously sent up in Rachel Johnson's novel Notting Hell.    

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Coronet Cinema. Photo by Edwardx, via Wikimedia Commons
For those unfamiliar with the area, Notting Hill lies to the north of Kensington and northwest of Hyde Park.  The big event of the year is the Notting Hill Carnival, the nearest thing Britain has to a real Latin-style carnival, which takes place at the end of August each year.  Notting Hill has not always been as universally upmarket as it is today.  The area around Pottery Lane was such a miserable slum in the 19th century that it was commonly known as the "Potteries and the Piggeries" - at one time there were thought to be roughly three pigs to every person.  But then there was the other side of the coin, with exclusive enclaves such as the aforementioned Ladbroke Estate, which belonged to the wealthy Ladbroke family in the 19th century and was developed according to a plan drawn up by the architect Thomas Allason, who envisaged a large central circus with streets radiating out from it and garden squares.  Today, the estate is a conservation area looked after by the Ladbroke Association.  

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Part of the Ladbroke Estate. Photo by David Hawgood, via Wikimedia Commons

Notting Hill is by no means the only film featuring this vibrant, cosmopolitan part of London.  A range of other films have made use of locations in the area, from Alfie and Blow-Up in the 1960s, the crime drama 10 Rillington Place and Antonioni's The Passenger in the 1970s, Withnail and I in the 1980s, right up to London Boulevard starring Keira Knightley in 2010, to name but a few.

The Visit London website is a good source of practical information for visitors to the area.

Map of the area.

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