Roger Michell: prolific director behind ‘Notting Hill’
Luck shone on Roger Michell when Mike Newell turned down the opportunity to direct the 1999 film Notting hill, having made five years earlier the previous romcom of the writer Richard Curtis, Four weddings and a funeral.
Michell, who died suddenly at the age of 65, took on the role after making his mark as a director first on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company and then on television with the drama series on Culture Clash. The suburban buddha (1993) and a feature-length naturalistic version of Jane Austen Persuasion (1995).
With Notting hill, he brought to the screen an Anglo-Saxon who will permeate in different ways in many of his films.
Hugh Grant, the soft-haired star of Four weddings and a funeral, has returned to Curtis ‘fold – as he will again later – as the divorced bookseller falling in love with Julia Roberts’ American movie star.
The comedy comes from the effect a relationship with a famous person has on him and his friends, who have been played by a handsome set of British actors – Emma Chambers as Grant’s wacky younger sister, Rhys Ifans as as roommate, Tim McInnerny as his best friend. , Gina McKee as the friend’s paraplegic lawyer and Hugh Bonneville as an incompetent stockbroker friend.
Not only Notting hill became the best-performing film at the UK box office in 1999, but it was also superior to Four weddings and a funeral with its “moments of truth”, as the American critic Roger Ebert described them. One of them is when Roberts looks at the camera and says, “Someday my looks will go away and I’ll be a sad middle aged woman who looks like someone who was famous for a while.
In addition to bringing his own mantra of “truth” to the movies, Michell had the logistical challenge of filming the real thing. Notting hill in west London – where Curtis lived – among market traders, shop owners and residents.
Initially concerned that the streets would be “blocked” by onlookers and paparazzi, he came to feel that residents were “genuinely excited” that their neighborhood would be celebrated on screen.
Michell’s excitement was tempered when he suffered a heart attack in 1999 and had to retire from directing Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
Upon her recovery, Hollywood motioned to To change of way (2002), with Ben Affleck as a Wall Street lawyer who leaves the scene after crashing into his car with a recovering alcoholic (Samuel L Jackson), the two attempting to get revenge on each other . The absence of stereotypes was again at the heart of a Michell film.
He was actively overturning stereotypes with his next film, The mother, about the passionate story between a 65-year-old widow, played by Anne Reid, and a man half her age (a pre-James Bond Daniel Craig).
The sex scenes and the candid dialogue in The mother were written by Hanif Kureishi, whose previous adaptation – with Michell – of his first novel, The suburban buddha, had marked the director on television as the one who thrived in a revolutionary and anti-taboo drama, with his story of a gay teenager, born to an English mother and a Pakistani father, confronted with sexual and racial politics .
Craig played again when Michell did Enduring love (2004), an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s psychological thriller. But it was the return to old age and lust with Kureishi’s script for Venus (2006), featuring one of Peter O’Toole’s best performances in years as an elderly actor attracted to his friend’s great-niece (Jodie Whittaker).
The director showed his independence and unwillingness to be compromised when he was hired to direct Craig as 007 in Quantum of Consolation (2008). Michell walked away after a script was delayed in coming, which he said threatened his ability to make the most of it in the time available.
His latest film, The Duke, scheduled for release next year, puts English eccentricity at the heart of a production reminiscent of the era of Ealing Studios comedies. Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren star in Michell’s version of a robbery at the National Gallery in 1961.
Roger Harry Michell was born in 1956 in Pretoria, South Africa, to Jillian (née Green) and Harry (HD) Michell, a diplomat. Later, in Prague, where his father was charge d’affaires at the British Embassy, he witnessed the Soviet invasion of 1968.
He then entered Great Britain at Clifton College, where he produced sketches by Harold Pinter, before studying English at Queens’ College, Cambridge. At the 1977 Edinburgh Festival, he staged Private Cock, a parody of Raymond Chandler that he wrote with his comrade Richard Maher, which won the Fringe First award. Five years later, he staged it in London’s West End, at the Whitehall Theater, starring Robert Powell.
At the Royal Court Theater (1978-81), he directed plays such as Capturing (1981), comedy by Nick Darke about Cornish fishing industry and a town overrun with tourists.
Then, for five years with the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon and London, and on tour (1985-91), highlights included the staging of Philip Franks in Hamlet (1987) and Simon Russell Beale in The constant torque (1988), Restoration (1988-89) and Some Americans Abroad (1989).
Michell changed direction in 1990 by enrolling in a BBC directors course. It first bore fruit in Lagos city center (1992), a three-part series starring Anton Lesser – an actor he had directed on stage – as a stuffy lawyer.
The suburban buddha and Persuasion followed before Michell made his film debut on My night with Reg (1996), an adaptation of Kevin Elyot’s comedy-drama on AIDS, which he had directed with great sensitivity at the Royal Court two years earlier.
Throughout his film career, Michell frequently returns on stage, notably at the National Theater with Blue / Orange (2000), by Joe Penhall – one of his regular contributors – Honor (2003) and Consent (2017).
He also returned to television with The Lost Honor of Christopher Jefferies (2014), about his former professor at Clifton College, falsely accused of murder and the subject of a smear press campaign. This and Persuasion were both Bafta Prize winners.
A year later, Michell made a TV version of Birthday, an adaptation of the male pregnancy comedy Penhall which he directed at the Royal Court in 2012.
His other films included Hyde Park on Hudson (2012), starring Bill Murray as Roosevelt and Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth, The weekend (2013), with Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, and My cousin Rachel (2017), which he himself adapted from Daphné du Maurier’s novel, starring Rachel Weisz.
Michell’s first marriage to actress Kate Buffery (1992-2002) ended in divorce. He and his second wife, actress Anna Maxwell Martin, went their separate ways last year. He is survived by Rosanna and Harry, the children of his first marriage, and Maggie and Nancy, of his second.
Roger Michell, director, born June 5, 1956, died September 22, 2021