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Hugh Grant rediscovers his creative spark

PUBLISHED: 10:27 28 May 2018 | UPDATED: 10:28 28 May 2018

A Very English Scandal - Norman Scott (BEN WHISHAW), Jeremy Thorpe (HUGH GRANT) - (C) Blueprint Television Ltd - Photographer: Sophie Mutevelian

A Very English Scandal - Norman Scott (BEN WHISHAW), Jeremy Thorpe (HUGH GRANT) - (C) Blueprint Television Ltd - Photographer: Sophie Mutevelian

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Hugh Grant has rediscovered his creative spark with a flurry of critically acclaimed high profile roles on cinema and television. Arts editor Andrew Clarke takes a look at how one of our most promising young actors became trapped by typecasting

Kristin Scott Thomas and Hugh Grant in Richard Curtis' breath-through comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral. Photo: Working TitleKristin Scott Thomas and Hugh Grant in Richard Curtis' breath-through comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral. Photo: Working Title

Hugh Grant, once the epitome of British romantic comedy, with hits like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’ Diary to his name, is currently enjoying life back in front of the camera.

Whereas before, he was always the tongue-tied, slightly bumbling romantic hero, now he has been recast as a deliciously shady character in a raft of new films and TV series and, as a result, he seems to have got his acting mojo back.

For many years at the start of the 21st century Hugh Grant seemed to have lost interest in his career. He would make the odd appearance in a derivative rom-com, (Music and Lyrics, Two Weeks Notice or Did You Hear About the Morgans?) which would try and revive memories of his glory days but these second-rate re-runs, usually left both actor and audience wondering where the magic had gone.

Hugh Grant playing Jeremy Thorpe in BBC One's A Very English Scandal Jeremy Thorpe (HUGH GRANT) - (C) Blueprint Television Ltd - Photographer: Kieron McCarronHugh Grant playing Jeremy Thorpe in BBC One's A Very English Scandal Jeremy Thorpe (HUGH GRANT) - (C) Blueprint Television Ltd - Photographer: Kieron McCarron

For many years you were more likely to see Hugh Grant on the golf course or before the Levenson Inquiry or a Commons Select Committee than you were on the cinema screen.

It was clear that Hugh had got bored playing the affable, self-depricating English everyman, and needed something more to fire up his creative spark. His sudden resurgence in a trio of new projects seems to have done the trick because Hugh is clearly having the time of his life and is once again firing on all cylinders.

His performance as a narcissistic actor-cum-ego-maniac in Paddington 2 earned him a well deserved BAFTA nomination while his role opposite Meryl Streep in the touching and funny Florence Foster Jenkins, the bizarre true story of a tone-deaf millionairess who has her heart set on being an opera star, earned him acting nominations for BAFTA, Golden Globes and European Film Awards.

Hugh Grant and Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins, the first of Hugh Grant's comeback movies. Photo: BBC FilmsHugh Grant and Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins, the first of Hugh Grant's comeback movies. Photo: BBC Films

I can understand Hugh’s frustration at being typecast as being Richard Curtis’ mouth-piece but equally I can see why it came about because having interviewed him very early on for his role in Roman Polanski’s unsettling thriller Bitter Moon, Hugh Grant the man/actor came across very much like Hugh Grant, the Richard Curtis romantic hero. He was charming, affable, witty and above all incredibly self-depricating. Virtually every anecdote was a story told against himself.

You can imagine him being a very entertaining dinner party guest, someone who charmed an entire room with ease and if you were a writer and came across someone like this, it would a treat to recreate that character on screen. This is clearly what happened when Hugh met Richard.

Four Weddings and Funeral was the result and the nation fell in love with tongued-tied Charles and Hugh Grant’s was never the same again. He revisited that persona in Notting Hill, Love Actually, tried a slight variation in Bridget Jones’ Diary, and the nation loved him.

Hugh Grant as the vain actor Phoenix Buchanan in Paddington 2. Photo: Studio CanalHugh Grant as the vain actor Phoenix Buchanan in Paddington 2. Photo: Studio Canal

While these hits may have been good for Hugh’s bank balance, being stuck in a rut did nothing for his acting aspirations. Along the way Hugh tried to do something different, tried to revive his pre-Four Weddings range of but the public never really seemed to take to these roles in the same way.

He had hits with Sirens, as an out-of-his-depth priest sent to persuade renegade Aussie artist to stop him painting salacious nudes, he played a sleazy out-of-town theatre director in Mike Newell’s An Awfully Big Adventure, he was the up-tight Edward Ferrars opposite Emma Thompson in Ang Lee’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, followed by An Englishman Went Up A Hill But Came Down a Mountain (his role as a cartographer in post-Great War Wales was a little too similar to his Richard Curtis persona to be considered a departure), but none of these films matched the box office of his rom-coms and eventually came to resent the way that their success limited his acting choices.

Jump forward a decade and it’s amazing what aging and time away from the camera will do. No longer expected to be the lover, suddenly Hugh Grant is free to have fun with a multitude of different roles. He can be a supportive sympathetic husband in Florence Foster Jenkins, a ham-actor in Paddington 2 or a ambitious politician in A Very English Scandal and all of a sudden no-one cares that he’s not tripping over his words or not getting the girl until the last moment.

Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill by Richard Curtis. Photo: Working TitleJulia Roberts and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill by Richard Curtis. Photo: Working Title

It’s good that we have got one of our national treasures back and that he’s being given the opportunity to play to his strengths.

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