You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

A silver dollar moon, flanked by wild, apocalyptic, Dali-esque clouds emerged over Sarajevo Film Festival’s famous outdoor cinema yesterday; an apt counter-point to Woody Allen’s more mundane, kitchen-sink comedy “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” appearing on the massive screen.

It’s an ensemble piece about a group of disgruntled Londoners. These are all glass-half-full kinds of folks (maybe that’s what comes of living in London?) but they’re driven by some new-agey persuasion that they deserve better. So they try to change their lives, mostly by ditching hopeless and uncooperative partners along the way. In doing so, however, not one of them gets what they want and few of them even get what they need. Actually, in spite of the last part, it sort of reminded me of real life, except with Woody Allen narrating. And since it is in fact a Woody Allen film, it’s quirkily and steadily entertaining enough. Smiley rather than laugh-out-loud. I doubt anyone other than Woody Allen could have gotten this film to the big screen though, or attracted such an all-star cast.

Cleveland Square and the Notting Hill areas were external locations, but London itself also seems like a bit of an unloved spouse here; it’s always present but not much is made of it.

Notting Hill

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since Julia Roberts graced the streets of London in Notting Hill. It was on TV again over the weekend: a “what happens” when a megastar meets and falls in love with quite a normal chap. Even if the chap is floppy Hugh Grant.

What happens when a normal city neighbourhood meets the might and madness of Hollywood is another story altogether.

Although there were discussions about building a huge set of Portobello Road, the decision was ultimately to go for authenticity. Sue Quinn, the film’s location manager said: “We wanted to capture the real flavour of Notting Hill, which meant filming in the most densely-populated areas, the main area being where William’s bookshop was situated.”

The Portobello Road c/o Notting Hill

But exactly how do you persuade neighbours to close off a major urban resource for six weeks of filming, without really pissing them off? Quinn’s team ended up writing letters to thousands of people in the area, promising that they would donate to each person’s favourite charity. Close to bribery this may be, but over two hundred different charities benefited from the approach.

And it worked. Last year, a report commissioned by the UK Film Council and its partners titled ‘Stately Attraction – How Film and Television Programmes Promote Tourism in the UK’, the Notting Hill movie gave international prominence to an area of London relatively unknown outside the city, provoking “a huge and lasting influx of tourists searching for the famous ‘blue door’ and the travel bookshop.”

Of course, with location filming, nothing is quite plain sailing. By October 2007, the UK Independent was reporting that Notting Hill residents (evidently entirely smug at the astronomical house prices they can now command) rebelled against filming in their area. Citing the “absolute havoc” that Notting Hill movie inspired, a councillor claimed:

“There is not one day in the week now when people who live and work around Portobello Road have any peace and quiet. There are hordes of people all the time. Fridays and Saturdays are unbelievable and on Sundays there are always crowds parading around still looking for that blue door which was sold to America years ago.”