Can’t go on vacation. Pop in a DVD and travel by film. This post explores "Notting Hill (1999), filmed on location in London. The film stars Julia Roberts as Anna Scott, one of the world’s most famous movie stars. Her picture is plastered on the cover of every magazine, and every time she makes a move, the entire world knows about it. Hugh Grant co-stars as William Thacker, owner of a travel bookstore in the vibrant West London suburb of Notting Hill. His business is slow, he has a roommate from hell and his love life is completely nonexistent. Then one day, their paths cross and the couple comes to face the ultimate question: can two people fall in love with the whole world watching?
The area of Notting Hill is dominated by Portobello Road (pictured below), one of London’s most famous streets and a popular and unique tourist attraction. A Victorian Street, Portobello Road is shown on a map of 1841 as Porto Bello Lane. The road grew between the big estates of Notting Hill and Paddington in London’s great period of residential expansion in the second half of the 19th century. Its shops and markets served the large houses on the estates providing goods and services for the working people who lived in the surrounding areas.
Filming the exterior shots of "Notting Hill" on location in lieu of building an exterior set presented a challenge for the production team. They had to deal with thousands of people, market traders, shop owners and residents.
Whenever dealing with real locations, a film’s location manager must get all the necessary permission to film there. In London, streets are not normally closed for filming. But to secure the maximum cooperation of local residents and business people in the area, the location team wrote thousands of letters pledging goodwill payments to favorite charities. This resulted in over 200 different charities receiving donations for the six weeks of shooting on Notting Hill.
In addition to Portobello Road, other "Notting Hill" locations included Westbourne Park Road, Golborne Road, Landsdowne Road and the Coronet Cinema. These included the Ritz Hotel where filming in public areas had to take place at night; the Savoy Hotel, the backdrop to Anna Scott’s press conference; the Nobu Restaurant in the Metropolitan Hotel; and the Zen Garden of London’s fashionable Hempel Hotel, where scenes for the wedding reception were filmed.
One interesting story about filming at the Ritz Hotel is even though production took place during the late evening/early morning, all crew were required to wear suits to comply with the hotel’s strict dress code. Another major location was Kenwood House in North London for the film-within-the-film sequence where William visits Anna on a film location.
One of the the most spectacular sequences in "Notting Hill" was the recreation of a West End film premiere. All the big London premieres take place at one of the cinemas around Leicester Square, right in the heart of London’s West End. Unfortunately when the producers applied for the filming permissions, they were declined because of the enormous problems crowds caused police during a premiere attended by Leonardo DiCaprio (note: the 1998 filming of "Notting Hill" is the year after "Titanic" took the world by storm). The production eventually got the green light to create a spectacle of excited crowds and photographers and television crews to capture the arrival of Roberts and Grant’s characters attending a glittering premiere at the Empire Leicester Square cinema.
If you care to visit The Travel Book Co. owned by Grant’s character, you need not go to Notting Hill. It does not exist there. The storefront has been recreated at Universal Studios in California. "Notting Hill" is available on DVD from Universal Studios. The DVD includes an on-screen travel guide to Notting Hill and an interesting and entertaining film commentary by the director, screenwriter and producer.