Richard Whalley Anthony Curtis, CBE (born 8 November 1956) is an English screenwriter, producer and film director, who was born in New Zealand to Australian parents. One of Britain's most successful comedy screenwriters, he is known primarily for romantic comedy films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones's Diary, Notting Hill, and Love Actually, as well as the hit sitcoms Blackadder, Mr. Bean and The Vicar of Dibley. He is also the founder of the British charity Comic Relief along with Lenny Henry.
In 2007, Curtis received the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award, the highest award the British Film Academy can give a filmmaker. Curtis received the BAFTA Humanitarian Award at the 2008 Britannia Awards, for co-creating Comic Relief and contributions to other charitable causes.
Early life and education
Curtis was born in Wellington, New Zealand, the son of Australian parents Glyness S. and Anthony J. Curtis, who was an executive at Unilever. His father was a Czechoslovakian refugee who moved to Australia when aged thirteen. Curtis and his family lived in several different countries during his childhood, including Sweden and the Philippines, before moving to England when he was 11.
Curtis attended Papplewick School, Ascot (as did his younger brother Jamie). For a short period in the 1970s, Curtis lived in Warrington, where he attended Appleton Grammar School, before he won a scholarship to Harrow School, where, as head boy, he abolished fagging. He achieved a first-class Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature at Christ Church, Oxford. At the University of Oxford, Curtis met and began working with Rowan Atkinson, after they both joined the scriptwriting team of the Etceteras revue, part of the Experimental Theatre Club. He appeared in the company's "After Eights" at the Oxford Playhouse in May 1976.
Early writing career
Collaborating with Rowan Atkinson in the Oxford Revue, he appeared alongside him at his breakthrough Edinburgh Fringe show. As a result of this, Curtis was commissioned to co-write the BBC Radio 3 series The Atkinson People with Atkinson in 1978, which was transmitted in 1979. He then began to write comedy for film and TV. He was a regular writer on the TV series Not the Nine O'Clock News, where he wrote many of the show's songs with Howard Goodall and many sketches, often with Rowan Atkinson. Curtis was the co-writer with Philip Pope of the Hee Bee Gee Bees' single "Meaningless Songs (In Very High Voices)" released in 1980 to parody the style of a series of Bee Gees' disco hits.
First with Atkinson, and later with Ben Elton, Curtis then wrote the Blackadder series from 1983 to 1989, each season focusing upon a different era in British history. Atkinson played the lead throughout, but Curtis remains the only person to have been a writer for every episode of Blackadder. The pair continued their collaboration with the comedy series Mr. Bean, which ran from 1990–1995.
Curtis had by then already begun writing feature films. His first was The Tall Guy in 1989. The romantic comedy starred Jeff Goldblum, Emma Thompson and Rowan Atkinson and was produced by Working Title films. The TV movie Bernard and the Genie followed in 1991.
In 1994, Curtis created and co-wrote The Vicar of Dibley for comedian Dawn French, which was a great success. In an online poll conducted in 2004 Britain's Best Sitcom, The Vicar of Dibley was voted the third best sitcom in British history and Blackadder the second, making Curtis the only screenwriter to have created two shows within the poll's top 10 programmes.
Curtis achieved his breakthrough success with the romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral. The 1994 film, starring Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell, was produced on a limited budget by the British production company Working Title Films. Curtis chose Mike Newell to direct the film after watching his TV film Ready When You Are, Mr. McGill.Four Weddings and a Funeral proved to be the top-grossing British film in history at that time. It made an international star of Grant, and Curtis' Oscar nomination for the script catapulted him to prominence (though the Oscar went to Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary for Pulp Fiction). The film was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Forrest Gump.
Curtis' next film was also for Working Title, which has remained his artistic home ever since. 1999's Notting Hill, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, broke the record set by Four Weddings and a Funeral to become the top-grossing British film of all time. The story of a lonely travel bookstore owner who falls in love with the world's most famous movie star was directed by Roger Michell.
Curtis' next film for Working Title was not an original script. Instead, he was heavily involved with the adaptation of Bridget Jones's Diary from novel to film. Curtis knew the novel's writer Helen Fielding. Indeed, he has credited her with saying that his original script for Four Weddings and a Funeral was too upbeat and needed the addition of a funeral. He is credited on Bridget Jones's Diary as co-writer.
Two years later Curtis re-teamed with Working Title to write and direct Love Actually. Curtis has said in interviews that his favourite film is Robert Altman's Nashville and the sprawling, multi-character structure of Love Actually certainly seems to owe something to Altman. The film featured a "Who's Who" of British and Northern Irish actors, including Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman and Keira Knightley, in a loosely connected series of stories about people in and out of love in London in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Curtis then wrote the screenplay to The Girl in the Café, a television film directed by David Yates and produced by the BBC and HBO as part of the Make Poverty History campaign's Live 8 efforts in 2005. The film stars Bill Nighy as a civil servant and Kelly Macdonald as a young woman with whom he falls in love while at a G8 summit in Iceland. Macdonald's character pushes him to ask whether the developed countries of the world cannot do more to help the most impoverished. The film was timed to air just before the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005 and received three Emmy Awards in 2006 including Outstanding Made for Television Movie, Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for Kelly Macdonald, and Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special trophy for Curtis himself. Curtis said of Yates' direction that he made "a much more beautiful film, and a surprising film and a better film than I could possibly have made."
In May 2007, he received the BAFTA Fellowship at the British Academy Television Awards in recognition of his successful career in film and television and his charity efforts.
Curtis co-wrote with Anthony Minghella an adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith's novel, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency which Minghella shot in mid-2007 in Botswana. It premiered on the BBC on 23 March 2008, just days after Minghella's death. The film did not run in the US until early 2009, when HBO aired it as the pilot of a resulting six-episode TV series with the same cast, on which Curtis served as executive producer.
His second film as writer/director, The Boat That Rocked, was released in 2009. The film was set in 1966 in the era of British pirate radio. It followed a group of DJs on a pirate radio station run from a boat in the North Sea. The film starred Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Rhys Ifans, Gemma Arterton and Kenneth Branagh. The film was a commercial and critical disappointment in the UK. Curtis re-edited the film for its US release where it was re-titled Pirate Radio.
He followed that with Steven Spielberg's War Horse, which he rewrote based on a first script by Lee Hall. He was recommended to Spielberg by DreamWorks Studio executive Stacey Snider, who had worked with Curtis during her time at Universal Studios. Curtis's work on the World War I-set Blackadder Goes Forth meant he was already familiar with the period.
His most recent film as writer-director is About Time, a romantic comedy/drama about time travel. It stars Rachel McAdams, Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander, Margot Robbie, Lydia Wilson and Vanessa Kirby and was shot during the summer of 2012.
In September 2013, Curtis delivered a screenwriting lecture as part of the BAFTA and BFI Screenwriters' Lecture Series.
Curtis together with Lenny Henry are co-founders and co-creators of Comic Relief and Red Nose Day. Curtis is also a founder of Make Poverty History. He organised the Live 8 concerts with Bob Geldof to publicise poverty, particularly in Africa, and pressure G8 leaders to adopt his proposals for ending it. He has written of his work in The Observer in the Global development section in 2005.
He talked the producer of American Idol into doing a show whereby celebrities journey into Africa and experience the level of poverty for themselves. The show was called American Idol: Idol Gives Back. In 2014, Curtis publicly backed "Hacked Off" and its campaign in support of UK press self-regulation by "safeguarding the press from political interference while also giving vital protection to the vulnerable."
In October 2010, a short film created by Curtis titled No Pressure was released by the 10:10 campaign in Britain to promote climate change politics. However, the video was swiftly removed from the organisation's website following a storm of protest over the alleged poor taste of its gory violence and sinister overtones. The film depicted a series of scenes in which people – including school-children – were asked if they were going to participate in 10:10 campaign. Those who indicated they were not planning to do so were told "no pressure" and then blown up at the press of a red button.
Curtis lives in Notting Hill and has a country house in Walberswick, Suffolk with script editor and broadcaster Emma Freud. He previously dated Anne Jenkin, now Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, before her marriage to Bernard Jenkin MP. He "writes a hapless Bernard into all of his works" in reference to her later husband.
|1989||The Tall Guy||Writer|
|1994||Four Weddings and a Funeral||Writer/Co-Executive Producer|
|2001||Bridget Jones's Diary||Writer|
|2004||Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason||Writer|
|2007||Mr. Bean's Holiday||Executive Producer|
|2009||The Boat That Rocked||Director/Writer/Producer|
|1979–82||Not the Nine O'Clock News||Writer|
|1991||Bernard and the Genie||Writer|
|1994–2007||The Vicar of Dibley||Writer/Co-Executive|
|1999–2007||Robbie the Reindeer||Writer|
|2005||The Girl in the Café||Writer/Executive Producer|
|2007||Casualty||Writer (1 episode)|
|2008||The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency||Writer (pilot episode)/Executive Producer|
|2010||Doctor Who||Writer (1 episode, Vincent and the Doctor)|
|2013||Mary and Martha||Writer|
|2015||Roald Dahl's Esio Trot||Writer|
|1995||Nominated||Academy Award||Best Original Screenplay for Four Weddings and a Funeral|
|2004||Nominated||Discoverer Screenwriting Award||Best Screenplay for Love Actually|
|2006||Won||Emmy Awards||Outstanding Made for Television Movie and Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special for The Girl in the Café|
|2007||Won||BAFTA for Academy Fellowship|
|2004||Won||BAFTA||Best Screenplay for Love Actually|