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Published November 21st, 2003 | by Jay Richardson

Love Actually Review

Classification: 15 Director: Richard Curtis Rating: 3.5/5

Love Actually is both easy to love and easy to despise. If you can avoid the hype – and let’s face it, you can’t – this is a crassly enjoyable movie you should question yourself for liking. And that’s even before you ignore the commercial tie-ins, the ironic spin-off single (of which more later) and the frankly shameful plugging of the film on BBC News. Very funny in places, it is sweet, endearing and will undoubtedly make an appropriate centrepiece for some future festive terrestrial TV line-up. Perhaps on a channel that thinks director Richard Curtis’ decision to not make any further rom-coms constitutes news.

Love Actually will be massive, and if you can overlook Curtis’ continued amusement at blurts of “shit”, “piss” and “fuck”, it’s a nice family pleaser. And there’s definitely something to be said for a film that tries so hard to be unashamedly romantic. It’s generally well-acted by a cast that includes: Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon, Bill Nighy, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Kiera Knightley, Alan Rickman, Laura Linney, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Billy Bob Thornton and Rowan Atkinson, in addition to familiar faces from British TV like Gregor Fisher, Andrew Lincoln, Kris Marshall and Martin Freeman, cameos from American totty like Denise Richards, Elisha Cuthbert and Shannon Elizabeth and others like Michael Parkinson, Ant and Dec and Claudia Schiffer. Phew, got that?

Like an oh-so British version of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, Love Actually is a carefully interwoven tale, beginning with a voiceover from Hugh Grant: “When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. General opinion is that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but it seems to me that love, actually, is everywhere.” The scene is set, as Grant, in possibly his least convincing role yet, enters office as Britain’s new Prime Minster. Here, he meets and is charmed by his chirpy tea lady Natalie (McCutcheon). There’s a bit of sexual frisson between them in a potential Pygmalion/My Fair Lady kind of way, which is then interrupted by the groping advances of a charming but steely US president (Thornton, in one of the better performances, playing the Prez as a neat Bush/Clinton combo. And full credit to the powers that be for timing Bush’s visit with the film’s release). Meanwhile, the PM’s sister (Thompson) plays the dutiful wife and mother whilst worrying about her husband Harry (Rickman)’s fidelity, and counsels the recently widowed Daniel (Neeson), as he struggles to raise his step-son. One of Harry’s employees, Sarah (Linney), has a crush on another worker but a sibling bond interferes; A young couple get married (Ejiofor and Knightley), but are the intentions of the best man (Lincoln) honourable?; Jamie (Firth), a cuckolded writer falls for his Portuguese cleaner (Lúcia Moniz) but cannot speak her language; and Bill Nighy narrowly trumps Thompson as the highlight of the film, playing a washed-up rocker whose cover of ‘Love is all Around’ (‘Christmas is all Around) will be released soon.

Strangely, though amusing and slickly handled, Love Actually actually has little to say about love. More about so-called British reticence, self-deprecation and the kind of mortified embarrassment personified by Hugh Grant and Colin Firth’s screen personas. That, and the forced cinematic pathos for which Christmas should be cancelled. If, as he claims, Curtis has culled his interwoven stories from friends’ experiences, you can only marvel at what a narrow sphere he moves in – the smug and overwhelmingly white bourgeois London of Four Weddings and Notting Hill dusted down once again. Please note also ‘comedian’ Junior Simpson in his role as the world’s worst wedding DJ, a man whose stand-up set used to marvel at the special effects in Notting Hill, claiming “they removed all the black people”. Well, good to see him here alongside the talented but barely-more-than-a-cameo Ejiofor and erm, a gospel choir, truly reflecting the multicultural diversity of our great nation. Similarly, a couple of the stories raise the possibility of homosexuality, but they’re quickly shut back into the closet – a pity, because as gay stories they would have been far more original.

For all my reservations about Love Actually, I found it amusing and sweet at the time. But we should be concerned if British cinema is going to keep making cynical, self-congratulatory films like this, the celluloid equivalent of a Christmas present that becomes less fun every time you play with it. Maybe the Beeb was right to run their story, and Curtis, Grant and Firth in particular will now attempt something a bit different.

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