"About a Boy" Dir. Dir. Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz (2002)
Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz’s adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel stays truer to the source material than another of the author's novel-turned-movies, the would-have-been-British rom-com "High Fidelity" (had John Cusack not jumped on board, the 2000 film would have most likely adhered closer to the UK-set novel). Yet both films are unique to the genre in their presentation, dynamics, and who's actually being romanced. Taking the ol' lesson of "You have to learn to love yourself before you can love someone else" to heart, it's the central, narrating figure who actually is the giver and receiver of love in "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy." Hugh Grant's Will Freeman disproves his own philosophy, bringing a young boy, his mother, and a new lady love to his formerly exclusive island. it's a refreshing spin on a genre usually too dependent on traditional romantic structuring.
"About Time" Dir. Richard Curtis (2013)
If everyone took two hours to watch Richard Curtis' love letter to life itself, the world would be better off. Living by the practices so charmingly preached by Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, and a chemistry-laden supporting cast would actually improve human existence. People would be nicer to one another. Couples more respectful. Strangers more caring, all because they realized the extraordinary qualities of their seemingly ordinary lives. "About Time" transcends the genre by studying more than one relationship -- it's about all our relationships. Romantic, familial, friendly, random meet-ups and chance run-ins. They're all wrapped up in this pure, beautiful film, and you should make sure to count yourself among them.
"Bend It Like Beckham" Dir. Gurinder Chadha (2002)
Gurinder Chadha's 2002 film is an unconventional romantic comedy -- at least in the way that it approaches the notion of romance as a part of a woman's life, rather than the center of her entire universe -- which is probably why it played so well with audiences across the globe. "Bend It Like Beckham" tells the story of 18-year-old Jesminder "Jess" Bhamra, a Sikh girl born and raised in the United Kingdom. Jess loves European football and despite having been forbidden from playing by her parents, she finds a way to join a local women's league, quickly distinguishing herself as a top player. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Keira Knightley co-star as Jess' coach, Joe, and teammate Jules, respectively. A love triangle emerges between Jess, Joe and Jules, and while the sexual tension becomes the subject of quite a few scenes, it is Jess' passion for the game, not the romantic conflict, that lives at the center of the film. Bagging the boy is icing on the cake once Jess has incorporated soccer into her life on her own terms. Romance just ends up being part of the package for her -- a fact that is not just fortuitous, but rather, a decisive move on Chadha's part, as it frames the film as a sort of feminist anthem.
"Bridget Jones’s Diary" Dir. Sharon Maguire (2001)
Based on Helen Fielding’s novel of the same name, which reads like the titular character’s own diary, this 2001 film adaptation was just as hilarious as the book, much thanks to Renee Zellweger’s brilliant portrayal. Here, she plays a 30-something British woman with a crap job, no boyfriend and little self esteem. Her two love interests are the equally charming Hugh Grant as Daniel Cleaver and Colin Firth as Mr. Mark Darcy, whom Bridget, ever the British romantic, thinks more of simply because of a name he shares with a particular Jane Austen character. We’re in an era where we’re seeing more "real women," flaws and all, on screen, and Bridget Jones no doubt helped pave the way.
"Four Weddings and A Funeral" Dir. Mike Newell (1994)
Another Hugh Grant movie to top this list is the Academy Award-nominated "Four Weddings and a Funeral." It’s rare to see a romantic comedy receive a Best Picture nomination, but the film is a complex, poignant and often hilarious feature that brings a bunch of friends together in the most brilliant of ways—a picture worthy of its acclaim. It stars Grant as an oh-so eligible bachelor who is smitten with an American he keeps running into, played by Andie MacDowell. It’s a rare feat, an example of the best Britain has to offer in the genre.
"Impromptu" Dir. James Lapine (1991)
Here are six reasons why "Impromptu" might be one of the greatest unsung British romantic comedies of its time: Judy Davis, Hugh Grant, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Julian Sands and Emma Thompson. And that's without even mentioning the premise -- a country house party in 1830s France becomes a madcap affair thanks to the famed artists who have been invited, including the shy, infirm composer Frederic Chopin (Grant) and the unconventional, disreputable writer George Sand (Davis). It's a screwball comedy pairing of the highest order, set against a hilarious clash of good manners and artistic temperaments -- the sort of funny conflict that the British have mastered.
"Love Actually" Dir. Richard Curtis (2003)
Not only is "Love Actually" a great romantic comedy in and of itself, but it manages to be a great Christmas movie as well. An ensemble cast of British greats like Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, Rowan Atkinson, Kiera Knightly, Colin Firth and yes, Hugh Grant, all try to "get through" the holiday season, some of them looking for love, some just looking to not be alone. Marriage, failure, family, redemption and friendship all come into play in this intertwined rom-com, which inspired a number of copy-cats. the charming cross-over story line theme in "Love Actually" was attempted by a few American versions like "Valentine’s Day" and "New Years Eve," both of which failed miserably.
"Notting Hill" Dir. Roger Michell (1999)
If you head to the artsy Notting Hill area in London, it would be difficult to think of the location without associating it with the 1999 film. Starring Hugh Grant as an indie bookstore owner who collides with Hollywood megastar Anna Scott (played by Hollywood megastar Julia Roberts), the film is a lovable romantic comedy film that benefits from a heartwarming script and the wonderful chemistry of its two actors. While these things alone make the film a romantic feature that will go down in British history, "Notting Hill" also boasts a wonderful "a couple months later" sequence, which features a memorable reunion for the estranged couple.
"Pride & Prejudice" Dir. Joe Wright (2005)
There are plenty of "Pride & Prejudice's" out there (one may argue too many). But just as he did years later with "Anna Karenina," Joe Wright manages to blend his own technical ambitions with a period setting. He creates a uniquely modern romantic comedy from one of the oldest properties not written by Shakespeare through charming long takes and stunning vistas captured within the story's development. Oh, and of course Matthew Macfadyen's Mr. Darcy.
"Sense and Sensibility" Dir. Ang Lee (1995)
The Ang Lee-directed, Emma Thompson-scripted adaptation of Jane Austen's seminal novel is like the Voltron of British romance. You want the pastoral beauty of a time long ago? There's plenty of that. You want elegant, beautiful actresses struggling desperately to hide their deep passions? Thompson and Kate Winslet are more than up to the challenge. You want charming, stammering British gentlemen literally falling over themselves for the girls they so ardently admire? Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant are here to oblige. You want gowns and formal dances and the spreading of scandalous gossip behind fans? It's all here. But while "Sense and Sensibility" could have ended up being a bit stiff (a fate many period dramas can't escape), it bursts with life, largely thanks to Thompson's wit both on the page and on screen. Most importantly, it's genuinely funny, with a slew of great supporting performances offering comic relief during even the saddest moments. (Watch out for Hugh Laurie, sulking behind a newspaper!) It's hard to think of a more perfect Austen adaptation -- or a more perfect romantic comedy of culture.
"Shakespeare in Love" Dir. John Madden (1998)
We’ve all read a lot of Shakespeare plays in school and seen a lot of films made of Shakespeare plays throughout the years, but what of Shakespeare himself? How did he love and lose and move on? That’s what this 1998 film does, all while featuring plenty of elements considered the norm in traditional romantic comedies. The film got Gwyneth Paltrow her first Best Actress Oscar and shockingly beat Steven Speilberg’s "Saving Private Ryan" for Best Picture. That win is contested among plenty of naysayers, but there’s no question that "Shakespeare in Love" is one of the best love stories out there.
[Casey Cipriani, Ben Travers, Eric Eidelstein, Liz Shannon Miller, and Shipra Gupta contributed to this list.]
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