What I learnt from Notting Hill on a cold New Zealand night

notting hill

Sometimes I look in the mirror and see the same person I was when I was eighteen, twenty, and twenty-three, just fewer pimples and a different ratio of brunette to blonde. In those years I’ve gained a full time job that is developing into a career, I’ve bought a car (how very grown up of me), which I later sold to move country. Yet aside from these milestones what has really changed?

Recently on a lonely Friday night, while feeling bleak after a bad day at work, I decided to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and let my good friend Netflix cheer me up. I began flicking through the options, giving my thumb a workout with the arrows until I found something that matched my mood. Suddenly, the brilliant and all time classic Notting Hill appeared. I didn’t know this was on Netflix! It was exactly what I needed: the gorgeous baby-faced Hugh Grant as a thirty-something. A girl can dream…

I pressed play and within minutes his face graced my screen, accompanied by that hopeful melody making me swoon over his love story with Julia Roberts. Sheeee may be the face I can’t forget, a trace of pleasure or regret… I was instantly transported back to childhood dreams of becoming famous and finding my Mr. Right in an ordinary man from Notting Hill. If I were famous there’s no way I’d marry someone else famous, I’m not that shallow– words almost every little girl uttered once upon a time. Ah, to be young again.

Shortly into the film I found myself distracted by Google. I began to think, who was the person who wrote this film? Who’s brilliant mind created the script that we still recite to this day, almost twenty years on?

Google had the answer: Richard Curtis, a British screenwriter born in Wellington, New Zealand. I live in Wellington! How had I never heard of him? I was quickly hit with another shock: not only had he written Notting Hill, he was the master-mind behind other favourite films such as Love Actually, Bridget Jones’ Diary, About Time and the hilarious and poignant Four Weddings and a Funeral. How was this fair that someone had had such great success writing so many romantic comedies. I was in awe.

Naturally, I wanted to know everything about him. What did he study, how did he land his first job, how does he keep writing such brilliant films, how can I be like him? I stumbled upon the screenwriters’ lecture he did for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). Unsurprisingly, he had been a friend of Rowan Atkinson when they were just starting out, and by writing a sketch for his friend they both landed jobs, which started them on their road to success.

Listening to him speak was humbling. He spoke about how he had been criticized for sticking to the same genre of romantic comedies and not branching out. For this he had two responses: first, he said the key to writing well, and even writing at all, was to write what you know. It is very difficult to write on a topic you haven’t experienced. Fortunately he had grown up in a very loving family, so the topics of love, friendship and relationships were what he knew well. Secondly, he discussed how some people claimed that romantic comedies weren’t real, arguing that love never happened how it did in films. He responded by saying, well actually, there are millions of people falling in love right now, but how many people are being murdered, a common theme of popular films that are deemed ‘real life’?

After watching his interview I became obsessed: what were my favourite films and who wrote them? Who won the Oscar for best new screenplay in 2018 and also, while we’re at it, the last decade? Who is the best screenwriter of all time and why?

I had never considered these questions when I was eighteen, twenty, or twenty-three. But now that I am just shy of my twenty-fifth birthday, I find myself more curious than ever about the people who have had such a big impact on the characters and stories I have watched and re-watched over the years. All I can say to Richard Curtis and the screenwriters I haven’t discovered yet is this: I like you very much, just as you are.

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