The Year of Hugh Grant | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

The Year of Hugh Grant

A new film, co-starring Meryl Streep, and the BFI Fellowship - Hugh Grant is having an awfully good year.

Incredibly charming, infuriatingly good-looking and classically British, Hugh Grant is the embodiment of the English rom-com heartthrob archetype. Recently awarded the British Film Industry Fellowship Award, following the likes of Christopher Lee, Al Pacino and Helena Bonham Carter, we thought we’d do Grant lovers everywhere a favour and talk about the long-spanning career of a staple British actor.

Appearing in a number of TV movies and sporadic episodes here and there during the 80s and 90s, Grant began his acting career like most new and enthusiastic thespians. It was only when he gained his first lead-role in James Ivory’s 1987 film Maurice that his unique acting ability began to pull focus. Winning Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for this role, Grant then went on to play an alarming amount of Lords in subsequent pictures, namely that of Lord Byron in Rowing With the Wind. Maybe his forte actually resided in being a member of the aristocracy - who knows.

Notting Hill was arguably the defining moment in his entire acting profession.
What his experience of acting up until this point did was to help establish the foundations for his breakthrough performance in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Starring alongside the unfaltering forces of Rowan Atkinson and Andie MacDowell, Grant portrayed Charles, a typical bachelor who appeared to have found love. With a film revolving around him, his charming allure showed itself straight away. Donning his cute geek-chic glasses, he seemed to set the precedent for his future roles. Thus, his typecast characters, ‘charming British man’, were confirmed in a way. The film earned Hugh a Golden Globe as well as a BAFTA, charting his steady rise to success.

It may have been here that writer Richard Curtis, of Four Weddings and Funeral, saw his epic screenplays go hand in hand with Grant’s style of acting, as he also wrote Notting Hill, both Bridget Jones films and Love, Actually; all landmarks of Hugh’s film career. The first of which, Notting Hill (1999), was arguably the defining moment in his entire acting profession. Seen by many as an inherently classy and feel-good picture, it also saw the birth of a character which internationally won the hearts of its audience. Grant depicted William Thacker, an ordinary yet original travel-bookshop owner living in none other than Notting Hill. The film documents the arrival of mesmerising Julia Roberts who portrays a world famous but down-to-earth movie star and her meeting with Thacker, their subsequent romance, and so on and so forth. With acting so quintessentially – and brilliantly – British, firstly through its use of very posh accents and secondly through its charming levels of sarcasm, I challenge anyone to dislike this iconic, and really quite sweet, love story (as well as its soundtrack).

Renee Zellweger was subject to Grant’s archetype (with a twist) in Sharon Maguire’s 2001 Bridget Jones’ Diary, based on Helen Fielding’s novel. Hugh’s typically witty and charismatic character was met with a change in this hilariously relatable romantic comedy. The triple force of Zellweger, Grant and Colin Firth meant that Bridget Jones developed a legacy with the young adult demographic in the early 2000s, which remains to this day. Following the diary of a young British woman seeking love, Grant played ladies man Daniel Cleaver, and presented a necessary contrast to Firth’s character, Mark Darcy. Suggested by critics that Grant was safely hiding behind his typecast acting rather than providing the public with any sort of range, Cleaver was still both well-acted by Hugh and a vital part in the story of Bridget Jones. He must have been received well, anyhow, because he later reprised his role in the 2004 sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.

About a Boy was received remarkably by critics and again reaffirmed Grant’s loved position in the British public’s eye.

2002 saw one of Grant’s best roles in About a Boy. Again, featuring a slight alteration from his usual heartthrob-esque performance, this part saw him paired with a young and adorable Nicholas Hoult. Hugh’s character Will Freeman, selfish, shallow and stand-alone, gave him the chance to test his acting abilities. His usual wit and avid sarcasm were again prominent aspects of his performance, yet this time featured a lack of charm due to the focus being on his cute and developing friendship with Hoult’s character. That is, until it turned into another sweet story about a mean character becoming nice. Still, About a Boy was received remarkably by critics and again reaffirmed Grant’s loved position in the British public’s eye, equally signalling a move into more mature acting, as well as another Globe nomination.

Cue one of the most satisfying films of the new millennium (or just 2003): Love, Actually. Hailed a guilty pleasure, I respectfully disagree – there’s nothing guilty about it. With Grant once again taking the lead as endearing British Prime Minister, Love, Actually follows a number of intertwining stories around Christmas time regarding love, loss and heartbreak. Richard Curtis provided a screenplay, as well as direction, that highlighted the best qualities of all actors involved, and although Grant reverts back to his obvious charming archetype, it worked well in conjunction with the renowned acting of others and the film’s light-hearted tone. Acting alongside the likes of Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy and Alan Rickman, to name but a few of the notable cast, Grant simply added to the undeniable loveable quality of the movie by falling in love with a his assistant. If only.

He, in the words of the BFI, ‘redefined the British leading man for a generation.’
Showcasing an impressive acting career, Hugh Grant has to be fully respected for his quality of performance. Yes, early, vintage Hugh may be more likeable, maybe because his typecast characters weren’t yet in fact typecast. However, all repetitive character-types aside, I for one have such a nostalgia for the actor because, truth be told, he’s great at his roles – and he knows it. What would Bridget Jones have been without the smug yet irresistible Daniel Cleaver? What would Love, Actually have amounted to without the slightly awkward yet quirky Prime Minister? Severely lacking in Hugh, that’s what. His epic comic timing and ever-so cheeky facial expressions mean that he adds a certain je ne sais quoi to any film he appears in.

Critics for years have claimed that Grant is merely a character actor and little else, potentially lacking in the art of performing and method acting. However, with so many classics under his belt, this is not a negative accusation in my books. His typical sarcastic and witty character types have meant that he, in the words of the BFI, ‘redefined the British leading man for a generation.’ Starring alongside Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins, set for release May 6th of this year, Grant seems to have departed from his typical mannerisms in favour of a more sophisticated performance. Only time will tell if he pulls it off, but the trailer certainly leads us to believe he does.

For now, we can safely say that love for Hugh Grant actually is all around. Around me, anyway.

Second year History and American & Canadian Studies student. (@SophGlenn)


2nd March 2016 at 2:39 pm

Images from

USA Today