[box cover]

Notting Hill: Ultimate Edition

Universal Studios Home Video

Starring Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville,
Emma Chambers, James Dreyfus, Rhys Ifans,
Tim McInnerny, and Gina McKee

Written by Richard Curtis
Directed by Roger Michell

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Review by Betsy Bozdech                    

"I used to go and visit friends who lived on the other side of the river every Thursday, and we had exactly the same meal with exactly the same people. What I'd fancy as I drove across the bridge was what it would be like if you turned up with the most famous girl in the world, and how they'd all react."

Screenwriter Richard Curtis on his inspiration
Notting Hill

"The fame thing isn't really real, you know. Don't forget — I'm also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her."

Anna Scott to William Thacker, Notting Hill

The Stars

Shyeah, right. If there's one thing Julia Roberts — or her Notting Hill alter ego, Anna Scott — isn't, it's "just a girl." Onscreen and off, she's arguably the most famous actress in the world these days, her mane of hair, megawatt smile, and string of box office hits earning her membership in that most exclusive of clubs: the $20 million-per-picture Hollywood créme-de-la-créme. Which is why, when it came to casting this sugary sweet romantic comedy, the folks at Working Title Films had a wish list with one name on it: hers.

And who better to play opposite America's favorite pretty woman than England's floppy-haired prodigal son? The part of William Thacker, Anna's unassuming, book-store-owning love interest, was literally tailor-made for Hugh Grant by screenwriter Richard Curtis, who was responsible for turning Liz Hurley's ex into a heartthrob in the first place with Four Weddings and a Funeral. Divine Brown or no Divine Brown, there's no one quite as well-equipped to play "boyishly earnest."

The Story

So. Girl is cast, boy is cast. Their story begins. Boy meets girl one day when she wanders into his travel book shop in the bustling, adorably eclectic London neighborhood of Notting Hill. Awed to be in the presence of Hollywood's golden girl, boy proceeds to do what he does best: stammer away at her in his sweetly nervous way, trying to play it cool but failing pretty miserably. Then boy dumps orange juice all over her and takes her across the road to his flat so she can clean up, where he does more of his cute babbling shtick until she kisses him (possibly to shut him up?). After posing as a hapless magazine reporter, boy soon finds himself in the unbelievable position of getting to take girl to his sister's birthday dinner, where his friends are properly awestruck.

A few montages, cuddling scenes, and relationship obstacles later, boy and girl get an appropriately perfect ending. And why shouldn't they? They live in movie land, after all, where it's entirely possible that the world's most famous movie star could meet and fall in love with a regular schmoe (albeit one who's adorably floppy). Notting Hill is a modern fairy tale, a twist on the old stories of a handsome prince riding through the village and plucking the poor-but-beautiful goose girl out of the crowd and turning her into a princess. (Of course, the goose girl never had to deal with odd Welsh flatmates or celebrity-crazed paparazzi — such is life.)

The Film

And as a fairy tale, Notting Hill works. Sure, it's cheesy and not particularly original — many of the characters, especially Grant's William, are virtual retreads of Four Weddings' charming gang of Brits — but it's sweet and entertaining, and it fulfills the "happily ever after" requirement as well as any Disney cartoon.

And, to give the film credit, it does make attempts to do a little more in its allotted two hours. Director Roger Michell mixes a couple of truly ambitious shots in with the more standard stuff — William's walk down Portobello Road amidst the changing seasons is particularly impressive. And Roberts and Grant, both playing people who are virtually identical to the way the public perceives them in real life, get the chance to comment on (and lightly mock) their reputations. When William's friend Max describes him as a man who "used to be kind of handsome, now kind of squidgy around the edges," Grant smiles ruefully — the comment could just as easily be made about him, and he knows it. And when Anna admits to plastic surgery and delivers her "it's hard to be a movie star" speeches at the dinner party and at William's flat, it's obviously a very self-aware brand of acting. When she goes ballistic on William after the press discovers her at his flat, it's refreshing to see the Perfect Woman having a hissy fit; this is a gal who's willing to admit she has a bit of a darker side. (Run, William, run!)

In the end, Notting Hill isn't a bad way to spend a couple of hours. Who wouldn't like living in that world? A great place to live; a set of witty, charming friends; a roommate who's weird but not life-threateningly so. It's a dream, but that's what romantic comedies are for.

The Ultimate Edition

Notting Hill has been released on DVD before, in the form of Universal's single-disc Collector's Edition. This "Ultimate Edition" takes what was already there, repackages it in a snazzy-looking tri-fold plastic case, and adds to it, filling two discs with special features and two versions of the movie. Here's how it breaks down:

Disc One:

Also here are production notes, cast and filmmaker bios, recommendations for other Universal DVDs, and DVD-ROM features. All of these features are on both discs.

Disc Two:

The Bottom Line

If you're a sucker for a) Julia Roberts, b) Hugh Grant, c) London, or d) predictable-but-sweet romantic comedies, you probably already love Notting Hill. If that's the case, this Ultimate Edition will be a worthy investment and addition to your DVD collection. If not, or if you already bought the Collector's Edition and aren't a superfan, you can probably pass.

— Betsy Bozdech

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