Obituary: Roger Michell, director who had his biggest success with Notting Hill

Roger Michell at the 77th Venice Film Festival in 2020 (Photo: Alberto Pizolli / AFP via Getty Images)

Roger Michell was not a household name, but he had a distinguished career in film and theater, with early success at the Edinburgh Fringe. And he made a film that, for a while at least, was the highest grossing British film ever made.

Michell was nervous after agreeing to direct the romantic comedy Notting Hill, which aimed to repeat the hit hit Four Weddings and a Funeral, with another screenplay by Richard Curtis, and actor Hugh Grant effectively reprising the charming and laid back role. romantic lead. Notting Hill co-starred with Hollywood superstar Julia Roberts, he was released in 1999 and he duly surpassed the box office achievements of Four Weddings, retaining the UK box office record until Harry Potter waved his wand on film audiences a few years later.

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His success opened the door to Hollywood for Michell and he was at the helm of Changing Lanes, a thriller starring Samuel L Jackson and Ben Affleck that was both commercial and critical.

But health concerns forced him to abandon the film adaptation of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and creative differences led to his departure from the James Bond film Quantum of Solace. He was pissed off that there was a release date, but no script. It is widely considered to be the weakest of Daniel Craig’s Bond films.

Michell also directed Venus, starring Peter O’Toole and Jodie Whittaker, and Daphne Du Maurier’s 2017 version of My Cousin Rachel, starring Rachel Weisz.

He never considered himself an author and much of his most famous work was on stage. “Cinema and theater are the most collaborative arts,” he said. “It’s their appeal. The idea that the director owns the film is absurd. It is the director’s role to mobilize the creativity of others.

Michell’s father was in the diplomatic service and he was born in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1956. A traveling childhood included a period in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring and the Soviet invasion that followed in 1968.

He attended boarding school in Bristol, where he wrote and directed plays, an interest he developed during his studies at Queen’s College, Cambridge,

After graduation he worked as an assistant director at the Royal Court Theater in London, where he worked with Samuel Beckett. The contemporaries of the Royal Court included Hanif Kureishi, with whom he would later work on television and in film.

He gained attention at the Edinburgh Fringe and won a Scotsman Fringe First award in 1980 with Private Dick, a parody of Raymond Chandler, which he wrote and directed with Richard Maher. He moved to London West End with Robert Powell in the lead role.

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Michell spent several years as a resident director with the Royal Shakespeare Company and appeared on television in the 1990s with Downtown Lagos, a three-part thriller.

It was followed by The Buddha of Suburbia, a four-part adaptation of Kureishi’s autobiographical novel about a mixed-race teenager in London in the 1970s, and a much-loved adaptation of Persuasion by Jane Austen, starring Ciaran Hinds.

Notting Hill was only Michell’s third film, following My Night With Reg, which was about a gay group at the funeral of a friend who died of AIDS, and Titanic Town, which is set in Northern Ireland during the troubles. Titanic Town reunited him with Ciaran Hinds and also played Julie Walters.

Hugh Grant and Richard Curtis had huge success with Four Weddings and a Funeral, the romantic comedy that paired Grant with Andie MacDowell. Notting Hill had a similar feel, although Grant played a different character, a bookstore owner, who “meets cute” with a Hollywood star, played by Julia Roberts, when he accidentally pours his orange juice on her.

She responds by inviting him to the Ritz hotel, where he claims to be a reporter for Horse and Hound magazine and romance blossoms from there. Audiences, or at least a large chunk of it, fell in love with Grant as well, and he grossed $ 364 million worldwide, with video and TV revenue to follow.

Hollywood loves money. Changing lanes was successful and despite a few setbacks Michell could have continued his fortune in the United States, but he was drawn to England and smaller projects on screen and on stage.

He worked with Daniel Craig, not on a James Bond film, but on The Mother, a 2003 drama, written by Kureishi, with Craig as the handyman and object of lust for a much older widow, played by Anne Reid.

Michell was a calm, modest, and popular figure in the business, with whom actors and writers enjoyed working. He and Craig once again worked together on an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love.

His latest film, The Duke, was highly regarded at the Venice Film Festival. Comedy on a stolen board, it stars Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren and will be released next year.

Michell’s first marriage to actress Kate Buffery ended in divorce. He was later married to actress Anna Maxwell Martin, although they separated last year. He is survived by two children from each relationship.

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