Roger Michell: a quiet genius nonetheless hitting his stride | Movie

Roger Michell was the TV and film director who had a midas contact with actors and with a specific kind of English materials: witty, literate, poignant and romantic. Michell was a grasp at directing something on the continuum between Jane Austen and Richard Curtis, and knew what animated each.

He had what got here to be seen as his masterpiece in 1999 along with his worldwide smash, the Richard Curtis-scripted comedy Notting Hill, wherein he elicited nice performances from Hugh Grant because the hopeless west London bookshop proprietor and Julia Roberts because the unattainable film star with whom he falls wildly in love. Followers and non-fans alike will concede the schmaltzy however heartfelt energy of that film’s legendary scene wherein Roberts tearfully begs Grant to like and forgive her: “I’m only a lady standing in entrance of a boy … ” Michell directed these two stars in that iconic scene with a grasp’s confidence.

However what’s so devastatingly unhappy about his dying now on the age of simply 65 years outdated is that it comes earlier than the nationwide launch of one thing pageant audiences have been hailing as even higher – his last movie, the true-life comedy The Duke, starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, concerning the theft of the Wellington portrait from the Nationwide Gallery in 1961.

Like Stephen Frears or Mike Newell, Michell got here up by the basic route: a grounding in drama and classical literature at college and – on graduating – in subsidised and non-subsidised theatre after which tv work gave him a way of the place to position the digital camera and the way to form efficiency in relationship to the digital camera lens.

In 1995, he had a significant profession breakthrough directing an exhilaratingly assured and seductive BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion with Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciarán Hinds as Captain Wentworth – it got here out the identical yr because the BBC’s Pleasure and Prejudice with Colin Firth sexily diving into the lake at Pemberley, and so Michell’s Austen was a little bit bit upstaged, however his work was revered and it was definitely admired by Curtis, who put him ahead for Notting Hill.


The colossal success of Notting Hill made Michell a Hollywood participant, a solidly grounded British skilled who may tackle something and fearlessly wrangle the most important stars. His drama-thriller Altering Lanes (2002) was a fiercely uncomfortable research in that after trendy topic of anger administration with Samuel L Jackson, Ben Affleck and Sydney Pollack. His subsequent film The Mom (2003), scripted by Hanif Kureishi was much more startling: Anne Reid starred because the older girl who has a passionate affair with a youthful man – the pre-007 Daniel Craig.

Ben Affleck and Roger Michell on the premiere of Altering Lanes in Los Angeles, 2002. {Photograph}: Kevin Winter/Getty Pictures

The Ian McEwan novel Enduring Love – with the quibbling play on phrases within the title – returned Michell to his actual reward for Englishness, romance and darkish tragicomedy: the Joe Penhall adaptation in 1997 allowed Michell to train his talent with dialogue and actors, and if the end result was a little bit slender, Michell definitely dealt with the legendary opening scene with the recent air balloon with nice aplomb.

Nevertheless it was in 2006 that Michell had a script – once more from Kureishi, once more with a Might-to-December romantic theme – that allowed him to luxuriate in English romance and English remorse. In Venus, Peter O’Toole, then 74, performed an ageing English thespian who, with Larkinian disappointment and unabashed craving, falls in love and lust with the younger great-niece of an outdated buddy: this being Jessie, performed by Jodie Whittaker. It’s a basic piece of upscale British display screen drama, and Michell dealt with it with nice model, as ever giving prominence to the actors and their dialogue, moderately than to any coercive directorial imaginative and prescient.


His extra American motion pictures Morning Glory (2010) and Hyde Park on Hudson (2012) had been bigger-budgeted and glitzier movies however didn’t have fairly the flavour of his greatest work: Morning Glory, with Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford, is the gossipy drama a couple of TV morning present and Hyde Park on Hudson is an odd however underpowered drama about Britain’s new King and Queen (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) making a go to in 1939 to the American president, Franklin D Roosevelt, performed in dreamy model by Invoice Murray – maybe there was no rapport between actors and director right here.

The place there definitely was a rapport was within the later motion pictures, Le Week-Finish (2013) with Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan having a bittersweet romantic getaway in Paris and My Cousin Rachel (2017), a completely pleasing romantic drama primarily based on a Daphne du Maurier novel, starring a feline Rachel Weisz.

My Cousin Rachel.

Nevertheless it was with a documentary at about this time that Michell got here up with a rip-roaring gem of a movie with sufficient sheer enjoyment issue to match something on his CV. It was his documentary Nothing Like A Dame wherein he did nothing however sit Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Joan Plowright round a desk and allow them to gossip about their careers, how the enterprise has modified, how attitudes to girls have modified (or not) and concerning the useless and inconceivable males they’ve needed to work with.

It took a directing genius to let these vivid personalities converse so extensively and so hilariously about their work – maybe the director’s job seemed straightforward, but it surely can’t have been. This documentary joyfully performed to all Michell’s strengths: his theatrical grounding, his model and wit and above all his nice love of actors. It’s such a disappointment that he’s gone.

This text was amended on 24 September 2021 as a result of an earlier model, in a single occasion, misnamed the movie Morning Glory as Morning Story.

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