Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) is an ageing British tennis pro preparing for his thirteenth and last Wimbledon tournament. Once ranked the 11th best player in the world, he's dropped to 157th and is resigned to throwing in the towel and spending his retirement coaching bored, middle-aged housewives. Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst) is a rising American star ten years Peter's junior and hotly tipped to win the women's singles event. The pair meet by accident in a London hotel when Peter is given the wrong room key and walks in on Lizzie in the shower. She doesn't seem to mind and soon they're "training" together between matches, to the disapproval of Lizzie's father and manager (Sam Neill). He worries that the affair is distracting his daughter from the tournament but it's having quite the opposite effect on Peter, revitalising his game and transforming him from a no-hoper into a dark horse.
For once screenwriter Richard Curtis's name is nowhere to be found on the credits of a Working Title-produced romcom. Nevertheless, Wimbledon follows the successful formula he established with Four Weddings And A Funeral to the letter. There's a charmingly gauche British hero, a beautiful American love interest, a supporting cast full of lovable eccentrics, a chart-pop soundtrack and a script which cuts its sentimentality with wry British humour and throws in as many quaint English swear-words as possible. Wimbledon doesn't have as many funny lines as Richard Curtis might have supplied but it also lacks his self-indulgence. While there are still a few too many subplots and I could have done without Peter's family of home counties stereotypes, the movie doesn't get bogged down or overstay its welcome like Notting Hill and Love Actually did.
Wimbledon is without doubt a formulaic film and no bookie would take bets on how it ends but the charm of the lead actors and the skill of the film-makers is enough to breathe some life into it, though not quite enough to persuade you you're watching something fresh. Kirsten Dunst, an actress who can come off as a little cold, gives her most agreeable performance for some time while Paul Bettany proves he can cut it as a fully fledged star as well as a character actor. These two make you believe in their romance and root for their characters. I liked that their relationship grows out of casual sex. This is how most couples start out today but it's rare to see that in a romantic comedy, a genre that prefers to believe people fall in love and then fall into bed.
The look of the film deserves special mention. Richard Loncraine is not a director associated with mainstream blockbusters - he's best known for more high-brow stuff like Brimstone And Treacle and Ian McKellen's Richard III. You wouldn't guess that from his work on Wimbledon, which must surely be the slickest-looking British film ever made, its visual gloss comparable to a Ridley Scott movie. Tennis is not the most visually interesting sport but Loncraine gives the matches some excitement, his camera swooping energetically around the courts and seamless CGI effects making the actors look like pros. The cinematography by Darius Khondji, who shot Se7en, makes the London and Brighton locations glow like American cities in Hollywood flicks. He even makes the Croydon flyover look sexy.