aka the Frock Flicks Guide to Hugh Grant Historical Costume Movies
For a while in the early to mid-1990s, it seemed like you couldn’t make a historical costume movie without Hugh Grant’s self-depreciating charm oozing out from every scene. Even when he got busted with a prostitute called Divine Brown in 1995 and was forced to do an apology tour of all the talk shows, that barely slowed down his career. It’s as if you named most any actor who’s been in a costume movie or TV serial in the past 30 years, I bet you could trace them back to a Hugh Grant historical costume movie in about six steps, just like the old Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game.
Let’s take a look at some of the more memorable roles in this guide to Hugh Grant historical costume movies:
Grant’s second film ever gave his career (and Six Degrees) a bunch of historical-costume connections because he was featured in 1987’s Merchant-Ivory production of Maurice. This was one in their series of E. M. Forester Edwardian adaptions, but of a relatively obscure work, a semi-autobiographical novel about the author’s homosexuality. Grant plays the title character’s first love interest. Maurice is played by James Wilby (Lady Chatterley, Gosford Park), and the movie also features Rupert Graves (Room With a View, The Madness of King George, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, The White Queen), and Simon Callow (Amadeus, Jefferson in Paris, Howards End, Shakespeare in Love, Rome, Doctor Who, Outlander). So this one flick links Grant to dozens of historical movies and TV shows right off the bat.
In Grant’s third film, the Spanish Remando al viento (“Rowing With the Wind”), he played Lord Byron. And while this one didn’t get much of a U.S. showing, it’s noteworthy because he did meet Elizabeth Hurley, who played Claire Clairmont. The two were romantically connected for about 13 years after this (including through the Divine Brown fiasco).
I would be remiss if I didn’t throw in 1989’s TV movie The Lady and the Highwayman. It’s awful. It’s terrible. OK, I kinda liked it when I was 20 but maybe I was high (just as likely, I was reeled in because Emma Samms from General Hospital played Barbara Castlemaine; yes I like soap operas, known issue, just deal!). As horrible as this was, Grant was not the only actor to suffer through it: Claire Bloom (The Buccaneer, Brideshead Revisited) and Michael York (The Taming of the Shrew 1967, Romeo and Juliet 1968, The Three Musketeers 1973) were also featured, and that connects Grant via one hop to pretty much all of classic Hollywood’s historical costume movies.
One of my very favorite Hugh Grant historical movies is 1991’s Impromptu. He plays Frédéric Chopin opposite Judy Davis (A Passage to India, Marie Antoinette) as George Sands. But Emma Thompson kind of steals the show as a very dippy duchess, with the memorable line of “stupid, stupid rain!” Bonus, Thompson links Hugh Grant to most everything historical ever done on screen in the modern era, either by her or via her through Kenneth Branagh. Also in the film are Julian Sands (Gothic, Vatel), Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride), and Anton Rogers (Disraeli, Lillie, and every other British period TV drama ever made). This Six Degrees’ game is getting too easy, maybe just three degrees?
In 1993, Grant had a small part in The Remains of the Day. This again links him with Emma Thompson, but now also connects him with Anthony “I’ll Take Any Role That Pays” Hopkins (The Lion in Winter, The Elephant Man, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Mask of Zorro, Alexander, Beowulf, etc., etc.). I could stop now, but I’m on a roll.
1994 was Grant’s breakout year with the non-historical (but terribly entertaining) Four Weddings and a Funeral. Also released that year was Sirens, a fluffy flick set in 1920s Australia. It features some soft-core nude scenes of Elle Macphearson (Jane Eyre 1996, Batman & Robin) swimming with other chicks. Grant plays an uptight priest. Hijinks ensue. Sam Neil costars as a crotchety artist, and Neil has an impressive historical-costume film resume, including My Brilliant Career, La Revolution Francaise, and The Piano, and on TV, Doctor Zhivago, The Tudors, and Peaky Blinders. This links Grant via Neil to just way too many people to possibly count.
Neil was linked to Grant again in 1995 for Restoration. This movie starred Robert Downey Jr. (Chaplin, Sherlock Holmes) and featured Ian McKellen (Richard III, Cold Comfort Farm, The Scarlet Pimpernel 1982).
This was a good year for Hugh Grant historical movies because he also starred in Sense and Sensibility where his nebbishy act worked well across from Emma Thompson. But he’s already been connected with her in our little game. So next up are Kate Winslet (Titanic, Quills, Hamlet, Jude, and the upcoming A Little Chaos and The Dressmaker) and Alan Rickman (Perfume: Story of a Murderer, also A Little Chaos). This movie costarred the lesser-known Greg Wise as the rakish Willoughby; he’s had roles in tons of historical stuff on telly like Cranford, The Buccaneers, and Horatio Hornblower. There’s even Hugh Laurie (Blackadder, Jeeves and Wooster) and Robert Hardy (Elizabeth R, Middlemarch, Little Dorrit, Mrs. Dalloway) in small roles, and this gives Grant mega-connections to all of the historical costume movie and TV world.
1995 was just the start of Hugh Grant’s movie peak, but it was the end of his historical costume roles so far. The last was in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, which is set in 1917. Grant’s connections here include a costar from Sirens, Tara Fitzgerald (I Capture the Castle, Exodus: Gods and Kings), plus Colm Meany (Bel Ami, The Last of the Mohicans, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine).
As you can see, through all these movies, Hugh Grant is connected to everyone who ever acted in another historical costume movie, past and present. I’ve only touched on the highlights too. Even if you aren’t a fan of his self-depreciating charm, you can play Six Degrees of Hugh Grant and link him to all your own faves!