TV & Movies

16 Things I Noticed Rewatching Notting Hill In 2023

And what exactly makes it a classic.

It’s a divisive “holiday”, Valentine's Day. Some people denounce the commercially-driven occasion, while others go all out: three-course dinners by candlelight with partners or friends. Galentine’s Day, if you celebrate. I, for one, have found peace by staying in the comfortable middle: I do pancake day (Shrove Tuesday for the religious) a week early and sink into my sofa to watch a rom-com with Nutella slathered all over my face. When Harry Met Sally, Bridget Jones's Diary, and Pretty Womanthere are many iconic films to choose from, but sadly, not all of them have aged too well. For younger generations, it can be uncomfortable to sit through movies so boldly sexist, heteronormative and full of fat-shaming remarks. Some even argue that these late ‘90s and early ‘00s “chick-flicks” hindered the feminist movement, but is there a film from that era that wouldn't make us cringe today? In search of a perfect Valentine's Day watch in 2023, I decided to see whether Notting Hill still holds up. Nearly 25 years have passed since Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts gave us the “perfect” on-screen romance, but what is it like to see it today? Here’s what I thought.

The fact that William Thacker thinks Notting Hill is a world entirely apart from Hollywood is laughable

Today, Notting Hill is one of the most lavish and affluent parts of West London after years of extreme gentrification. Famed for its Victorian townhouses and pastel-hued properties, it is actually home to some of the wealthiest people in the world, and home to Keira Knightley, Harry Styles, Lindsay Lohan, and Jennifer Lawrence IRL, just to name a few. So William Thacker’s assertion that where he lives is a world apart from Hollywood actors like Anna Scott is actually hilarious.

Anna Scott is a fashion icon

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It's well documented that fashion trends are cyclical, see the current Y2K revival – the bright colours, the rhinestones, the velour, and tiny garments are everywhere. But Julia Roberts looks so chic when she leaves William's house after getting “cleaned up.” The all-black everything, the beret, the sunglasses, the leather jacket, the tiny bag, the crop top showing those abs and the sneakers... You wouldn't blink twice if you saw Bella Hadid in a similar outfit today.

Everyone needs a roommate like Spike

He's a lovable fool but a comfort to have around the house and someone you'll never be bored of. Alan reminds me of how random house-sharing can sometimes (and I stress, sometimes) lead to a friendship that is as beautiful as it is unlikely. My fave Spike-Thacker moment? When Spike asks which one of the hideous T-shirts he should wear on a date.

God, I wish more men were like William Thacker

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Hear me out. The moment where William asks whether he could "drop round for some tea" to see her again... Just so English and so wholesome. None of this getting-ghosted-on-several-dating-apps nonsense. Where did all the respectful and romantic men like him go? (Or were they always a myth?)

Bernie's reaction to Anna is very relatable (for me)

When Anna and William go to his little sister's dinner party, everyone immediately recognises the famous Hollywood actor, but Bernie has no idea who she is until the very last moment. I am, unfortunately, one of those people – I can never identify famous people. But in my eyes, it makes Bernie all the more loveable, too.

Anna Scott is right, those private gardens should be a thing of the past

She doesn't quite say that, but she does tease William for obeying private property rules. Green spaces shouldn't be gated; nature belongs to everyone! And I'm sure Anna Scott would agree.

The “jokes” about being fat are so… urgh

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Any commentary about someone’s weight is insidious at best, but the “jokes” in Notting Hill? They just make me dismay. The dinner table conversation where Bernie makes a self-deprecating joke about his cheeks getting chubbier, followed by Honey saying she fancied him before he "got so fat", is just sad. Downright depressing though? The scene where Anna's boyfriend tells her not to “overdo it” with the room service because – and I quote – he doesn't want people to say, "There goes that famous actor with the big fat girlfriend."

Men were so gross in the early 2000s

There is something particularly shocking about how vulgar and objectifying the “lads” are in the restaurant when they openly discuss Anna Scott and other women they'd like to be with. Yes, the film makes it clear that what they are saying is horrible, but it also showed me how far we have come. Yes, phrases like "she's so clearly up for it" aren’t completely unheard of today, but it does feel like a much less frequent occurrence, which I am glad of.

You truly do feel for Anna when her private photos get leaked by the press

I remember a time when celebrity nudes were everywhere. It reminded me of Vanessa Hudgens had her photos leaked online in 2007. She had to apologise to her fans, and Disney condemned her, saying she had a "lapse in judgement". In retrospect, this is shocking. Today, revenge porn is illegal in the UK and is punishable by up to two years in prison, so it's wild to think that there was a time when tabloids wouldn’t have blinked twice before printing Anna Scott's nudes.

Real love is safe and soothing

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The real reason I come back to this film over and over again is that it reminds me that good love is meant to feel safe and soothing. The scene where William tells an anxious Anna that she is "lovelier this morning than [she has] ever been" completely melts my heart, each and every time.

OK, Anna gets quite unkind when the press turns up at William's doorstep

Fashion icon status aside, Julia Roberts' character is actually very mean! I know she's a messy Hollywood actor in the film, and we're meant to feel sorry for her being followed by paparazzi 24/7, but William Thacker has been nothing but kind and accommodating, so I'm glad that he has a moment– though brief – where he stands up for himself and shows her the door.

Notting Hill captures the period of falling in love so well

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You know that feeling of falling in love with someone new and time starting to blur when you're together? When you lay in bed with them all morning, and before you know it, it's afternoon, and you're starving, so you have to roll out of bed, put on a random outfit and grab a late lunch in a local cafe? When you make your weekend plans disappear to spend more time with them? I wish I could live this honeymoon period over and over again.

Where have all the films with the happily ever afters gone?!

Have you noticed how many rom-coms you watch today end with a couple amicably breaking up? Sure, that might be more realistic, and that the "real love" was inside us or our friends all along, but I want to see the wedding, the kids, the pregnant belly and the picnics in the park à la Notting Hill. I love that the film's final shot is of Anna and Will on the symbolic bench. Yes, give me all this delusion!

The shot showing how much time has passed is brilliant

My favourite part of the film has to be that scene where William tries desperately to forget Anna and walks through Notting Hill through all four seasons. Though he still can't get her out of his head, he's learned to live on. The spanning shot captures the painful passing of time following a heartbreak and the new person that emerges from the rubble. (Though it's hard to believe that Hugh Grant would ever get his heart broken.)

This film reaffirms my belief in romance

Whenever I get down about love, I watch Notting Hill again because I am convinced the one-liners have therapeutic qualities. There’s the moment when Anna asks if she can stay a while and William replies with, "you can stay forever." Or when Anna announces that she's "just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her." See? Even just reading them and you can’t help but feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Apart from a few minor blips, Notting Hill has aged well

Two hours of this film never ceases to be an escapist joy. Is it a more mythical and romanticised vision of London in the early 2000s? Absolutely. But sometimes it's nice to revisit the past in this way. And if it makes you feel better? All the more reason.