Hugh – Not Taken for Granted
British to the teeth and charming to the core, Hugh Grant has starred alongside some of the greatest screen actresses of our time – Julia Roberts (Notting Hill), Julianne Moore (Nine Months), Sandra Bullock (Two Weeks Notice), to name three – and he’s about to squire another cinematic leading light, Meryl Streep, in the frothy, fact-based comedy Florence Foster Jenkins, opening nationwide tomorrow. Streep plays the title role of the real-life American socialite and operatic soprano (1868-1944), renowned for her relentless pursuit of singing in public regularly…and disastrously, to which she was reportedly oblivious. She became a cause cèlébre for her lousy voice and sheer persistence, but received staunch support through the years from her devoted, spouse-like manager/ business partner St. Clair Bayfield (Grant), a London and Broadway stage actor in whose honor Actors Equity has given an annual award since 1973 for an outstanding performance in a New York production of a Shakespeare play. Directed by Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons), the film has already gotten appreciative reviews in England, where Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian assessed that as a study of mediocre talent writ large, there are no wrong notes, and that “Grant’s portrayal of Bayfield is really good: affectionate, tender, uxorious and entirely uncynical.” Grant has also paired felicitously with another esteemed actress, a fellow ensemble member in the all-star romantic comedy Love Actually, two-time Academy Award® winner Emma Thompson. In The Remains of the Day (1983), Thompson plays the housekeeper at a British estate where she falls in love with the rigid, duty-bound butler (the great Anthony Hopkins) and becomes disenchanted at the stagnant repressiveness of the great house and the disturbing behavior that is spawned when wrongheaded political beliefs infect it. Grant plays the empathetic godson of the deluded Earl (James Fox), whose insights into his elder relation’s dangerous and treasonous maneuverings and outspoken defiance cannot prevent the encroaching sadness soon to come. There’s more love actually in the Thompson/Grant teamup two years later for the delightful Jane Austen adaptation Sense and Sensibility (1995), in which screenwriter/project developer Thompson as Elinor Dashwood, the oldest of three sisters in a down-at-the-heels family grudgingly supported by rich relations at a small country cottage, finds in budding clergyman Edward Ferrars (Grant) a confidant, soulmate and potential life partner, but as their marriage would be considered socially “unsuitable,” they spend a great deal of the movie longing for each other from afar. Thompson tailored the role for pal Grant, who plays it with acute subtlety, reserve and, as ever, bumptious charm, and when two hours worth of societal “obstacles” are overcome and the two frustrated friends let their feelings flow, it all makes a great deal of sense – and delight. So while eyes are on the ladies in Florence Foster Jenkins in theaters and The Remains of the Day and Sense and Sensibility on gorgeously outfitted Twilight Time hi-def Blu-rays, on the distaff side Grant offers a rare and special chemistry quite worth serenading.