Culture Film & TV

There’s Something About Hugh: A deep dive into the oeuvre of Hugh Grant

Perhaps the only interesting fact about me is that for my 19th birthday a group of my friends in college got me a cardboard cutout of Hugh Grant. Upon first reading of that revelation, you may immediately assume that I am a rather desperate, rom-com obsessed creature with an unhealthy penchant for saccharine schmaltz and posh boys with floppy hair.

You would be incorrect (alright, maybe I am desperate). Instead, I think there is more to this infamous actor than meets the eye. For one thing, Grant’s dry sense of humour is woefully underappreciated, as is his self-awareness; the only films in his career which he seems to actually think are any good are Paddington 2 and About A Boy

I would be hesitant to say that I am a ‘fan’ of his, or even that I particularly like most of the stuff I’ve seen him in. For lack of a more articulate way of explaining this, something about him just seems a bit dodgy. But for some reason I find a strange enjoyment watching an actor on screen who apparently has so much disdain for his craft. I don’t know, maybe it’s a manifestation of my own psychological issues.

Anyhow, the end result is that I have seen more of his filmography than I have of any other actor, and I may as well make some reflections on the time I have wasted in doing so.

Before you read on, it is worth noting that I broadly divide Grant’s career into 4 sections: the early (surprisingly curious) career, post Four Weddings rom-com fame, the 00s where he was in a bunch of dreadful Hollywood flicks which nobody cared for, and his recent renaissance where he plays dodgy old men pretty much exclusively. 

Career High/ Lowlights:

Privileged (1982): An OUDS production made whilst Grant was at New College and has him credited as Hughie Grant (aww, how precious). Seems impossible to find a copy of this but as he plays a posh Oxford undergrad, I’m sure I can use my imagination.

Maurice (1987): An absolutely gorgeous queer Merchant-Ivory film and an adaption of the E.M Forster novel. You can stop watching after he gets married to a woman and gets a hideous moustache though.

The Lair of the White Worm (1988): This is one of the most bizarre things which I have ever watched. Come for the promise of a young Hugh Grant being outwitted by a young Peter Capaldi (whose no-nonsense Scottish grit proves an interesting contrast to Grant playing some posh lord who doesn’t do much), stay for rather nightmare-inducing visions of nuns being burned alive. Lovely stuff, but not for the Love, Actually fans perhaps.

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994): Obviously a classic, but Andie MacDowell is just so lifeless. I actually reckon the film would work better if she and Grant just weren’t in the story at all. Then again, one wonders what middle-class men would come to base their personality on if he had never made an appearance here.

Sense and Sensibility (1995): I’m not one for period films but it looked fancy.

An Awfully Big Adventure (1995): It’s an interesting and unique point in Grant’s career – he plays a rather rude gay theatre director in 1950s Liverpool. He really excels at roles where he isn’t supposed to be liked, I am beginning to notice.  Nice to see him in a film which isn’t set in London (or indeed, New York) with other rich people who have no personality. 

Mickey Blue Eyes (1999): I’m probably in the minority when admitting my love for this one. I’ve never watched the Godfather or the Sopranos, but I am confident that they wouldn’t be no match for it. I mean, he plays an art dealer who accidentally finds himself entangled in the mafia – from that mere premise alone it should be easily sold on you.

Notting Hill (1999): This film does not make sense economically. How does a man manage to afford a flat in Notting Hill when he owns a travel bookshop whose only customer is Bernard Black from Black Books? Even then he’s trying to shoplift.

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001): Grant has described his character in this film as ‘West London… upper middle class’ which is rather meaningless to me. That aside, I can quote the entire film script so I evidently hate this film less than some of the other ones on this list. Indeed, I have had many a conversation with friends just on the basis of Grant’s hair here. Must watch, essential viewing etc etc.

Two Weeks Notice (2002): This plot makes no sense. Why is the principled, politically active, super formidable lawyer in love with a rich and needy property developer with no morals or spine? Also Donald Trump is in this one.

About A Boy (2002): Grant has described his character in this film as ‘North London’ which, again, means nothing to me. That being said, this is a genuinely brilliant film and proof that he is a versatile actor who is best when he’s working with a top script and isn’t just riffing on the cutesy cad character-type he made his name with.

Love, Actually (2003): A friend of mine described Grant’s role in this film as ‘fit Tony Blair’. Hm. I am one of the few people impervious to the supposed charms of this film, and it is my opinion that the sort of people who actively enjoy this nauseating tripe with the emotional depth of a coke spoon need to find any other film to watch.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004): See Bridget Jones’s Diary, but with a less luxurious haircut. One can debate which fight scene with Colin Firth is better. I prefer the original.

Music and Lyrics (2007): The worst film I’ve ever seen. The beginning bit with the Wham! / Duran Duran parody is quite funny though.

Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009): The joint worst film I have ever seen.

The Rewrite (2014): Haven’t seen this one but I did once catch my dad crying whilst watching it. Thank God he moved on from rom-coms. Hugh Grant that is.

A Very English Scandal (2018): Unlike the other entries in this list, this is a TV series. Like with An Awfully Big Adventure, Grant is evidently at his best when he is playing rather sinister, narcissistic characters in positions of power. He is also at his best when he’s working with genuinely good scripts.

Paddington 2 (2018): He had no right to be this good.

Jade Calder

Outside her degree, Jade (she/her) can occasionally be found trudging around Manchester on the way to her local Greggs. She was also once described as the 'lovechild of Dennis Skinner and Liam Gallagher' by a Conservative councillor. It is her only notable achievement.