Thursday, October 21, 2021

A Career in Film, Captured in 500 Vignettes

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Mr. Michell was known as a “touring filmmaker” — one who specialized in highly structured films, such as Chocolat, My Beautiful Laundrette and Notting Hill. He was known to divide audiences by meticulously formulating each scene — sometimes interviewing leading actors and actresses while they were in character and then straining to reproduce that moment in a similar way (v.t.). Perhaps because of that, I never thought of Mr. Michell as a box-office success. But in 2006, he had the hit of his career with Notting Hill, directed and co-written by Mr. Notting Hill himself, Hugh Grant.

Notting Hill is about a London millionaire, played by Mr. Grant, and his adult daughter, played by Julia Roberts, who visit him and his family in Los Angeles. They get into a somewhat scandalous relationship, with a little laugh between them at the sight of her uncovered breasts. Mr. Michell said he could not decide whether to make the film, and that Mr. Grant at first had second thoughts about taking on the role. But when Mr. Michell convinced him that he could combine the talent of the talented duo of Mr. Grant and Ms. Roberts, Mr. Grant agreed to take on the role.

It is a testament to Mr. Michell’s skills as a director that Notting Hill is both a crowd-pleaser and an artful meditation.

He also wrote a screenplay and directed the 2002 film Closer, an adaptation of the French novel by Patrick Suskind about a long-time married couple who struggle to renew their relationship and their friendship after years of separation. The film starred Jude Law and Nicole Kidman and won three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Mr. Michell) and Best Supporting Actress (Kidman). Mr. Michell and Mr. Grant were nominated for Oscars in 2006, for their screenwriting and for directing, respectively, of Love Actually.

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