Obituaries: Roger Michell, director who had his biggest hit with Notting Hill

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

Roger Michell was hardly a household name, but he had a notable career in film and theater, with early success on the Edinburgh Fringe. And he directed what was at least at times the top grossing British film of all time.

Michell was nervous after agreeing to direct the romcom Notting Hill, which aimed to replicate the hit smash hit Four Weddings and a Funeral with another screenplay written by Richard Curtis, and actor Hugh Grant took on the role of charming, relaxed romantic guide. Notting Hill starred with Hollywood superstar Julia Roberts, it came out in 1999 and befittingly surpassed the box office performances of Four Weddings and held the UK box office record until Harry Potter waved his wand over the cinema audience 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 a commercial and critical hit.

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

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

He never considered himself a writer and many of his most famous works were on the stage. “Film and theater are the most collaborative arts,” he said. “That is her attraction. The idea that the director owns the film is absurd. It is the director’s role to direct everyone else’s creativity. “

Michell’s father was in the diplomatic service and he was born in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1956. His childhood included a time in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring and the subsequent Soviet invasion in 1968.

He attended boarding school in Bristol, where he wrote and directed plays, an interest he developed while studying at Queen’s College, Cambridge.

After completing his studies, he worked as an assistant director at the Royal Court Theater in London, where he worked with Samuel Beckett. One of the contemporaries of the royal court was Hanif Kureishi, with whom he later worked on television and film.

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

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Michell spent several years as Resident Director at the Royal Shakespeare Company and moved to television in the 1990s with Downtown Lagos, a three-part thriller.

This was followed by The Buddha of Suburbia, a four-part adaptation of Kureishi’s autobiographical novel about a multiracial teenager in London in the 1970s, and a highly acclaimed adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion with Ciaran Hinds.

Notting Hill was only Michell’s third feature film, after My Night with Reg, which featured a group of gay men at a funeral for a friend who died of AIDS, and Titanic Town, set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Titanic Town united him with Ciaran Hinds and also played Julie Walters.

Hugh Grant and Richard Curtis had great success with Four Weddings and a Funeral, the romcom on which Grant worked with Andie MacDowell. Notting Hill had a similar feeling, although Grant played a different character, a bookstore owner, who “sweetly meets” a Hollywood star, played by Julia Roberts, when he accidentally pours his orange juice on her.

She answers by inviting him to the Ritz Hotel, where he poses as a reporter for Horse and Hound magazine and romance blossoms from there. The public, or at least a large part of it, also fell for Grant’s charms, grossing $ 364 million worldwide, followed by video and television revenue.

Hollywood loves money. Change Lanes was a hit and despite some setbacks, Michell could have pursued his fortunes in the US, but it drew him back to England and smaller projects on screen and 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 a craftsman and object of lust for a much older widow, played by Anne Reid.

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

His last film, The Duke, received high praise at the Venice Film Festival. A comedy about a stolen painting starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren due to be released next year.

Michell’s first marriage to actress Kate Buffery ended in divorce. He was then married to actress Anna Maxwell Martin, but they separated last year. From every relationship he leaves two children.

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