Universal/Everett Collection
Hugh Grant's character is thrust into the international spotlight after winning the heart of a Hollywood actress, played by Julia Roberts, in the 1999 film "Notting Hill." Twenty-five years on, the West London neighborhood is an example of runaway gentrification.

Editor’s Note: Laura Beers is a professor of history at American University. She is the author of several books on British culture and politics, including the upcoming “Orwell’s Ghosts,” on the continuing relevance of George Orwell’s writing to the 21st centuryThe views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.

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This month marks the 25th anniversary of Richard Curtis’ blockbuster film “Notting Hill,” the now classic rom-com starring Julia Roberts as American movie star Anna Scott on location in London, and Hugh Grant as the diffident bookshop owner William Thacker, with whom Roberts’ character falls in love.

Laura Beers
Laura Beers

It premiered to international acclaim in May 1999, grossing $363 million (then nearly £200 million) at the box office. The film, with its endearing representation of love across a social and cultural chasm, has withstood the test of time. Last year, Vanity Fair ranked it No. 11 in its list of top rom-coms ever, while a few months ago, Harper’s Bazaar placed it even higher at No. 4.

Yet the social world that the film depicted has aged less well. The Notting Hill of the 1990s was still socially heterodox and shabby chic, a neighborhood where a group of 30-something professionals could plausibly have ended up. Today, it’s become a bastion of extreme wealth and privilege where young professionals — and indeed, 99% of the population — could never afford to buy.

In Curtis’ depiction, this West London neighborhood is a bubble of upwardly mobile — and almost exclusively White — gentrification. Young professionals can not only afford to rent townhouses in central London, they can afford to own them — even if, as in Grant’s character’s case, they are reduced to taking in a quirky Welsh lodger after an unfortunate divorce impacts their mortgage repayments. They can also afford to invest in economically unviable travel bookshops.

Even in the late 1990s, such access to disposable income marked the characters in “Notting Hill” out as privileged. Yet, their privilege was not so egregious as to render them totally unrelatable.

In “Notting Hill’s” key romantic moment, a marker of class privilege is repurposed from elitist to intimate and quaint. Who could forget the scene? The two protagonists climb the fence of one of the many gated private squares in West London, after which the trespassers illicitly kiss among the roses.

MCA/Everett Collection
Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant's characters stroll one of West London's gated gardens — and later share a kiss, in the film's iconic scene.

Those fences tell their own story of London exclusivity. During the Second World War, the iron railings around these squares were removed and melted down to make munitions with the result that “many more green spaces were now open to the public.” It was an inadvertent “democratic gesture” on the part of then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s wartime government applauded by observers such as George Orwell.

Yet, as early as 1944, Orwell would remark with regret, “the railings are returning … in one London square after another. So the lawful denizens of the squares can make use of their treasured keys again, and the children of the poor can be kept out.”

For Orwell, with the misery of the Great Depression still fresh in his memory, such markers of social inequality were inherently iniquitous. Two decades later, in May 1968, a new generation of social critics would again single out Notting Hill’s private gardens as indefensible symbols of Britain’s enduring social stratification — leaping over the railings in organized protest.

But in former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Britain and President Bill Clinton’s America when the film premiered, viewers largely accepted Grant’s poshness as charming, and West London’s gated gardens as innocuous idylls.

The 1990s were a period of economic and social optimism — that “things can only get better,” in the words of Blair’s 1997 election anthem, and tomorrow would be better than yesterday, as per Clinton’s 1992 campaign tune.

Both politicians and the public gave comparatively little thought to the implications of rising inequality. The important point was that the economic pie was growing, even if it continued to be divided unequally. The rising tide was lifting all ships, and those still floating in shallow waters could plausibly hope to one day own their own townhouse.

Steve Eason/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Tony Blair manages to balance tea and shake hands on the campaign trail in 1997. The Labour Party's election anthem was D:Ream club tune, "Things Can Only Get Better."

Twenty-five years later, with the economic crash of 2008 and the ensuing Occupy Movement protests well in our rearview mirror, the implications of resurgent social inequality not only in Britain and the United States, but across the globe, have become more difficult to ignore.

Access to affordable housing is at a historic low. A resurgence of homelessness has led to rising numbers of people sleeping rough in encampments, sparking debates in cities across Britainthe US and beyond over the rights of municipalities to disburse homeless communities.

Young people, in particular, have been squeezed by the rise in both rents and real estate values, making it more difficult to get on the housing ladder. Millenials are less likely than previous generations to own their own home.

In the mid-1990s, a professional couple in their mid-30s like Grant’s character and his ex-wife could plausibly have afforded to buy a home in Notting Hill, albeit likely only if they had some family assistance with their down payment.

In 1995, when we might imagine them to have purchased their blue-doored abode, the average price of terraced houses in Notting Hill was £383,039 (equivalent to £758,392, or roughly $940,000 today).

Yet, in the 1990s, Notting Hill, long a center of Caribbean immigrant culture and the site of the annual Notting Hill Carnival, underwent a rapid process of gentrification. Between 1995 and 1999, Notting Hill house prices rose by 75%.

Already, by the end of the millennium, the neighborhood had become inaccessible to all but the most privileged first-time home buyers, although it was still possible for young people in their 20s and 30s to find a rental property, particularly if they were willing to rent a room in a shared house like Grant’s character’s lodger Spike (Rhys Ifans).

Mike Kemp/In Pictures/Getty Images
The colorful terraced houses of Notting Hill, which these days sell for millions of pounds.

The processes of gentrification and urban renewal that began in cities across the globe in the late 20th century have only accelerated in the 21st. Housing in major urban centers has risen out of proportion with almost any other form of capital with the result that, today, young renters and home buyers are effectively shut out of the central London market.

Grant’s character’s home (now with its blue door repainted white) last sold for over £4.5 million in 2014. Today it’s no stretch to think it would probably go for twice as much.

The average terraced house in Central London now sells for over £3 million. And in San Francisco, Manhattan and other major US cities, homes have increasingly become unaffordable for all but the wealthiest. According to data from the Federal Reserve, house prices in the San Francisco-San Matteo-Redwood City region have risen by nearly 500% since 1995.

As a consequence, the percentage of 30-somethings owning a home in major urban centers such as London and San Francisco has fallen dramatically.

Access to rental housing has suffered a similar fate. In the early 2000s, I rented a series of studios and shared houses in central London on a graduate student income. And almost all of my college friends lived in Manhattan, in one-bedrooms and studios on teachers’ salaries and graduate student stipends.

Now, all but one of my New York friends has moved out of Manhattan. The only people I know left in central London are in their 60s and 70s, having bought their homes in the last century.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Like central London, rental prices in Manhattan have risen dramatically in recent years, at double the national rate.

According to the housing website home.co.ukthe average rent for a room in a shared house in Notting Hill is £1,254 (just over $1,500) per month, while the average Notting Hill apartment rents for four times that amount.

Meanwhile, many properties in central LondonManhattan and San Francisco are unoccupied, held vacant by wealthy real estate investors banking on the properties continuing to increase in value — a situation that has only increased the shortage of available, affordable housing.

Progressive activists and politicians have sought legislative remedies for a situation in which not only gated gardens, but entire city centers have become inaccessible to all but the wealthiest of the wealthy.

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Yet, such proposals have faced stiff and effective opposition from landlords determined to maximize the value of their assets.

In Britain, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government’s long promised Renters’ Reform Bill failed to deliver on promised tenant protections. The New York State budget, passed last month, included a package of tax incentives to encourage the construction of new housing, and protections against excessive rent increases and no-fault evictions, but did not include the full package of renter protections advocated by progressives. The dream of urban living looks set to remain inaccessible for many.

Rewatching “Notting Hill” 25 years on from its release, the greatest fantasy of the film is not that a movie star could fall in love with the owner of a failing bookshop — but that a group of regular guys in their 30s could all own townhouses in Notting Hill.