Hugh Grant's Drama Performances Are Seriously Underrated & Here's The List To Prove It
When you think of Hugh Grant, you probably think three things: floppy hair, acute Englishness, and rom-coms. It’s fine, they’re kind of his thing. But as his role as politician Jeremy Thorpe in the new BBC drama A Very English Scandal demonstrates, Grant’s actually capable of more than declarations of love in the rain. Let me prove to you, dear readers, that Hugh Grant's dramas are every bit as watchable as those trusty rom-coms.
Sure, there was Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, About a Boy, Two Weeks Notice, Love Actually, another Bridget Jones, Music and Lyrics, and probably many more that even IMDb couldn’t keep up with. But Grant has also turned his hand to period drama, family-friendly comedy, biopic, action, and political satire. And he’s engaged with politics off-screen, too — he played a central role in uncovering the News of the World phone hacking scandal, in which it was found that journalists hacked into the voicemail of murdered teenager Milly Dowler. (There's a reason he tweets at @HackedOffHugh — he's a director of the Hacked Off campaign group for "a free and accountable press.") Finally ready to diversify your Hugh Grant intake? Just keep reading!
In Grant’s very first film role, he played Lord Adrian in a comedy about Oxford undergraduates staging a production of The Duchess of Malfi. I’ll be honest: Privileged doesn’t really warrant a place on this list, but it was absolutely vital to me that you all know he was credited as "Hughie Grant". Hughie. (Also, please accept the above GIF of dancing Hugh in the absence of any available Privileged imagery; again, this film really does not deserve to be on this list, and is currently unavailable to stream in the UK. But Hughie.)
Had Grant pursued a different early career trend, he might be known today as Prince of Period Dramas instead of Regent of Rom-Coms. First example: his role as Clive Durham in Maurice, an adaptation of the E.M. Forster novel published posthumously in 1971. Directed by Call Me By Your Name’s James Ivory — and disappointingly overlooked by contemporary audiences for being, as the Guardian put it in their 30-year recap, “too gay” — the film follows the coming-of-age of Maurice Hall (James Wilby), a young man wrestling with his sexuality in repressive early 20th century England. Grant plays Clive Durham, his first love and Cambridge classmate. (Unsurprisingly, given Grant went to Oxford University's New College, there's a strong Oxbridge theme to Grant’s filmography.) I’d also like to seize the opportunity while I have the mic to urge you all to read the book, which is beautiful and cruelly under-read.
'The Remains of the Day' (1993)
Another period drama, another James Ivory film, and another literary adaptation, this time of Kazuo Ishiguro’s quietly devastating 1989 Booker Prize winner of the same name. The film, which received eight Oscar nominations, follows the reminiscences of painfully proper butler Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) about his service at Darlington Hall, where he failed to act on his feelings for Emma Thompson’s Miss Kenton. Grant appears as Reginald Cardinal, godson of the Nazi-sympathising Lord Darlington; it’s one of several roles Grant would go on to play alongside Emma Thompson.
'Sense and Sensibility' (1995)
Listen, I get it: Sense and Sensibility is funny and features romance. But it's a Jane Austen adaptation, a period drama, and all the men are wearing uncomfortably high necklines, so it does not count as a rom-com, OK? The Ang Lee-directed film follows Dashwood sisters Elinor and Marianne, played by Emma Thompson (who also wrote the script) and Kate Winslet respectively; their sudden loss of financial security spurs a hunt for wealthy suitors. According to the Guardian, Thompson — who won an Oscar for the screenplay — had Grant in mind when she wrote the role of Edward Ferrars, suitor to Elinor. He's "played with cheerfully incongruous 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'-isms", according to The New York Times.
'An Awfully Big Adventure' (1995)
According to New York Times film reviewer Janet Maslin, An Awfully Big Adventure "represents the road not taken" for Grant. She wrote, in 1995, that "it captures Mr. Grant as the clever, versatile character actor he was then becoming, rather than the international dreamboat he is today." Set in Liverpool in the years following World War II, the film centres on aspiring teenage actress Stella Bradshaw, who joins a local repertory theatre and proceeds to fixate on Grant's Meredith Potter, the cruel and condescending director. The film's directed by Mike Newell, who launched Grant into rom-com superstardom in Four Weddings and a Funeral one year prior; An Awfully Big Adventure, however, is decidedly less sweet.
'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' (2015)
It's comedy (sort of), but instead of romance there are spies and action. Guy Ritchie's reworking of the 1960s TV series by the same name stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as CIA and KGB agents respectively, collaborating to thwart a potential nuclear threat. Grant plays suave MI6 operative Waverly, and also adds to his collection of excellent period glasses.
'Florence Foster Jenkins' (2016)
Meryl Alert! Meryl Alert! The 2016 biographical comedy Florence Foster Jenkins is based on the real life titular opera singer, whose self-belief far outstripped her talent. Grant plays her husband and manager St. Clair Bayfield, whose efforts to preserve his wife's illusions of greatness extend to buying and destroying every newspaper featuring a negative review in the vicinity. The film sees Grant on "career-best form" according to the Guardian's film critic Mark Kermode.
'Paddington 2' (2017)
A villainous — and hilarious — role for Grant, as faded actor Phoenix Buchanan, who frames Paddington (Ben Whishaw, Grant’s co-star in A Very English Scandal) for the theft of a pop-up book turned treasure map. Critics adored Grant’s performance as the cravat-sporting narcissist (as well as his many costumes); it even won him a BAFTA nomination for Actor in a Supporting Role. One can only hope that, inspired by Paddington 2, the future elderly Grant will cultivate a fine pair of mutton chops.
So to sum up: Grant has played multiple Oxbridge types, a malicious director, a supportive stage husband, an MI6 agent, and a failed actor-turned dog food commercial star. There's no denying it: Hugh Grant can do an awful lot more than rom-coms. (Although the rom-coms are pretty darn great.)