There's London and then there is Richard Curtis' London. The 62-year-old film-maker has spun the city into a cosy, romantic oasis in back-to-back cinematic hits — from Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill to Love Actually. His latest film is Yesterday, a comedy about the enduring power of the Beatles.
Curtis was born in Wellington and moved to England when he was 11. He credits his outsider perspective for the snow globe version of London that he portrays in films. "I think in some ways it allows you to relish the place you've arrived in," he said. "I'm accused of giving a very sunny version of London because I do. I take the good and don't feel too bad about the bad."
The screenwriter has lived with writer and producer Emma Freud in Notting Hill for 25 years.
Early in his career, Curtis said he decided to write only about places he knew and places he loved. The first film he wrote was set in America and, after a disappointing meeting in Los Angeles, where executives told him his dialogue and jokes were too British, he flew back to London and decided to scrap the project altogether. "I came home and said, 'I'm never going to write anything that isn't set in the streets in which I live.' And I've very nearly lived up to that."
Here, Curtis recommends five inspirational places.
1. Abbey Road
If you're quick to write off Abbey Road as a tourist trap, Curtis encourages you to think again. The crossing was featured on the cover of the Beatles' 11th album, Abbey Road, and runs just next to Abbey Road Studios, a stately looking, Georgian building where the band recorded 190 of its 210 songs. Curtis, who did the music recording for Four Weddings and A Funeral inside the studio, pointed out that it is one of the few remaining relics of the Beatles era.
"If you go to Strawberry Fields, there's just nothing. There's a red gate and, at the moment, there's nothing behind it. It's just a strange bit of land," he said. "Abbey Road has the crossroad, there's the beautiful studio with the lovely steps leading up to it. It's satisfyingly real."
2. Alfred Hitchcock Ceramics
Since 2001, the Leytonstone Station Tube stop has been the home of a colourful, large-scale tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, who grew up just a short distance away. Sixteen vibrant mosaics, designed by artists at the Greenwich Mural Workshop, are found at the station, each an homage to the director and his films. Curtis, who is fond of both Hitchcock and ceramic art, stumbled upon the display when he was on his way to watch his son perform at a nearby music gig.
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"I was so taken aback that there was this really wonderful thing, which I think people would pay to see if it was put up in an art gallery," he said.
His favorite is the North by Northwest mosaic, which recreates the famous scene of Cary Grant sprinting from a plane, framed with splashes of bright yellow, blue and red tiles.
3. Lutyens & Rubinstein Bookshop
For a decade, this bookshop has sat on a lively stretch of Notting Hill, lined with colourfully painted storefronts. Head inside and you'll find a moment of quiet in the bright, well-organised store. There are intricately folded book pages hanging from the ceiling, handmade painted cards for sale at the front and a winding staircase that leads to more books and a table for reading.
Curtis, who lives nearby, likes to browse on the weekends, usually with one of his four children, aged 15-24. "I really encourage the kids to go there and buy books because it does make them better people," he said.
4. Primrose Hill
Make the small uphill trek to the top of Primrose Hill in northwest London and you'll be rewarded with a stunning, 360-degree panorama of London. The summit was used for duels in the 18th century. These days, visitors lounge on the lantern-lined grass, dogs roam, and a circular lookout point offers sweeping views of the city.
It's also great for sledding. "It's the place to go when it snows here. It has the perfect curve to take a 7-year-old," Curtis said. "Primrose Hill, the little village, is also really adorable. There's a gorgeous bookshop there and a lovely Greek restaurant and an amazing old newsagent. It's a very satisfying day out."
5. British Film Institute, Southbank
There's a lot of movie magic packed into this glass-sheathed building nestled along the Thames River. The four-screen cinema offers old and contemporary movies and hosts a series of film and television festivals. It also houses the BFI Mediatheque, a free library of more than 30,000 film and television titles, including rare television broadcasts and British cinema classics.
"Backing on to the river is an entrance to the cinema bit, but if you go down the side, there's this brilliant common space and a brilliant movie bookstore," Curtis said. "The other day I went there and they have these very bold series of T-shirts with just the names of women directors."