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February 20, 2014

British films that will warm your heart

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — With all the snow and sub-zero temperatures this winter there are enough nights where the easiest thing to do is hunker down and enjoy a good movie. I thought I’d offer a few suggestions with a British twist. These are films with Americans that are filmed in England. The one thing they all have in common is that they’ll warm your heart in the end.

No matter what’s going on in Hugh Grant’s personal life he has a knack for portraying lovable characters. One of these is in a romantic comedy with Julia Roberts called Notting Hill. Grant plays one of those everyman characters who stumble into a situation most of us can only dream about.

His character lives a rather bland life running a travel bookstore in the area of London called Notting Hill. He is getting over a divorce that has left him lonely and depressed. One day this gorgeous, world famous actress played by Julia Roberts suddenly appears in his shop looking for travel books. She’s basically trying to get away from the chaos of filming a movie to have time to herself. Grant recognizes her but wants to respect her privacy.

Due to an incident shortly after Robert’s character leaves the shop (they collide and Grant accidentally spills orange juice on her) a chemistry develops between them. He still doesn’t think he is “worthy” of her but she contacts him for a date.

The rest of the movie is about how this odd couple develops a relationship with all the pitfalls that come with a movie star getting involved with a nobody, especially a nobody who doesn’t think it could ever really work. Early on there’s a great scene in which Grant takes Roberts to his sister’s birthday party unannounced and the repartee between his small group of stunned family and friends is both sweet and unforgettable.

Notting Hill is simply the best romantic comedy I’ve ever seen. Grant displays the charm that we expect to see in a British gentleman and Roberts is terrific at playing a parody of herself. It’s cute, funny, and exactly the kind of film that defines “feel good.”

Another movie that fits the uplifting “British” mode and comes with a well-known ensemble cast, including Grant, is Love Actually. It’s a somewhat quirky movie in that it covers several distinct stories that somehow thread together. The movie drifts from funny to sad to touching to off-the-wall but surprisingly holds together well. Only one of the stories is definitely not for children (thus the “R” rating) but it’s the silliest as well.

It’s hard to describe the movie without getting into too much detail so the one thing I’ll say is that you’ll be touched by Liam Nielsen, Emma Thompson, and Colin Firth, and be ultimately satisfied with Hugh Grant. Firth’s story is the most compelling, heart-warming-wise. Just relax and enjoy it all.

The last “British” film I’ll recommend is one that flew below the radar. It’s called Last Chance Harvey and stars Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson (again!). It didn’t make a splash in the theaters but it’s another very tender film. Hoffman plays Harvey, a divorced “loser” who can’t seem to get his act together. He is on his way to England to attend his estranged daughter’s wedding. You get the idea how “estranged” when Harvey finds out his daughter booked him at a hotel alone while the rest of the wedding party is at a private estate.

What appears to be a depressing situation turns around when Harvey meets a woman played by Thompson who is a solid citizen but also down on her luck. Together they give each other a “last chance” at happiness. Harvey invites her to the wedding and the experience is a game-changer.

One side note for baby boomers is that we will realize just how old we’ve gotten when we get a look at the step-father patriarch. It’s James Brolin, the same fresh-out-of-med school Dr. Kiley from Marcus Welby, M.D. Has it really been 45 years since that show debuted?

Like the other two films, Second Chance Harvey is an understated film that simply succeeds. All three are meant to warm the heart and make you forget the cold. There’s no better way to beat back Old Man Winter.