Editor’s Note: The UKC Film Society will be showing Love Actually on this Thursday (18th December) at 7.30pm in ELT2. Feel free to come alone or bring your friends!
Love Actually was the film that made me realise that love actually is all around.
‘Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport. General opinion started to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. Seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy but it’s always there. Father and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from people on board were messages of hate or revenge, they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling, you’ll find that love actually is all around.’
These are the words that open Love Actually, spoken from the impeccable Prime Minister, David (Hugh Grant), and act as the film’s fundamental subtext. From this, and the under title of this review inspired by Vice Magazine’s ‘The Film That Made Me…’, I have come with an ulterior motive, and that motive is to state why Love Actually is not only the perfect Christmas film, but also to state how and why it has influenced the way I feel about love. For context, two momentous events occurred in 2003 (three if you’re me). The Iraq War in March, my tenth birthday in November and the general, UK and US release of Love Actually in the same month. Obviously as a 10 year old whose access to any media that was rated 15+ was at his cousin’s house (sorry Mum and Dad!), I could not be taught Love Actually’s life lessons upon its release. However all was not lost and in the year 2008, when I was fifteen years old, and a year after my first serious break up, I turned to ITV2 on a cold Christmas night and watched the film that would make me realise that love actually is all around.
Love Actually is the directorial debut of one of British filmmaking’s national treasures, Richard Curtis CBE, whose work includes Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Blackadder. The film starts in Heathrow airport with David delivering the film’s poignant subtext (see above). Set mostly in London in the five weeks before Christmas, the film tells the love stories of a wide range of individuals and couples that are all seemingly connected.
Though it would take several pages to discuss all the interconnection of Love Actually’s narrative, I will simply pick the three stories which are most significant to both the film and my opinion of it.
David and Natalie
David (Hugh Grant) has recently been elected Prime Minister. Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) is a new member of his household staff. The characters’ obvious class difference, their overall clumsiness and reoccurring socially awkward encounters embeds their romantic attraction to each other. 42 minutes into the film we are introduced to the US President (Billy Bob Thornton), whose likeness to former President George Bush is wonderfully undeniable. It is through a series of unsuccessful and informal meetings, and the expression of his unreasonable politics, that Natalie is sexually harassed by the US President. This inspires one of the most significant scenes to the film and its resonance in British political history as headstrong David stands up to the President and his notion of a ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the US.
David and Natalie’s relationship in Love Actually both concerns class and politics. David’s obvious upper-middle class background and Natalie’s working class background put them at social odds, especially when Natalie states that she lives in ‘Wandsworth. The dodgy end.’ After he feels that ‘working in such close proximity every day and… knowing so little about you… seems elitist and wrong.’ Despite David’s sister Karen (Emma Thompson) also living in Wandsworth, it is clear through Grant’s almost sarcastic line delivery that he has never been to the ‘dodgy end’. Despite that, it is David and the US President’s relationship that provides David with the ultimate revelation of his and Natalie’s own ‘special relationship’. The audience ends up feeling sorry for David when he regretfully fires Natalie and is unable to deal with his love for her. Indeed, David remains a special character as he says, ‘I love that word, “relationship”. Covers all manner of sins, doesn’t it? I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the President taking what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to, erm… Britain.’ In that, love transcends social class, politics and country, and with this speech being increasingly associated with situations of Britain standing up to the US, it has cemented its place in both film and political history.
Jamie and Aurélia
Before I starting writing why Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurélia’s (Lúcia Moniz) relationship is special, let me make it clear that I did not pick them because Firth’s character shares the same name as me! Anyway, Jamie is an aspiring writer who attends the wedding of his two friends Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Juliet (Keira Knightley), whilst his girlfriend (Sienna Guillory) pretends to Jamie that she is ill so that she can have sex with his brother while he is out. Visibly devastated, Jamie goes to his French holiday home where he meets his new Portuguese housekeeper. Like Natalie, since both Jamie and Aurélia work together in the same place and have similar personalities, they both feel attracted to each other. When Jamie returns to England, his love for Aurélia inspires him to learn Portuguese whilst in turn she learns English.
The infidelity of Jamie’s ex-girlfriend acts as a blessing to Jamie, as it gives him the opportunity to continue his writing and in turn meet his true love, Aurélia. Like David, Jamie is disconnected from women at the beginning, as he is ‘not surprised’ by his girlfriend cheating on him. The language barrier between Jamie and Aurélia early on becomes the barrier that blocks their relationship, with Jamie attempting to communicate first in French, Spanish, Italian, English and hilariously simple hand gestures. Despite this barrier it appears that they both understand each other. As Jamie learns Portuguese, we learn to appreciate his determination and perseverance because it links to our own sense of individualism when he makes a mad dash to marry Aurélia, who adorably learned English ‘just in cases’. Their love transcends age as ‘…she’s 10 years too young to remember a footballer called Eusebio’, and also transcends language barriers, even at the end of the film, as both Jamie’s grasp of Portuguese and Aurélia’s English are still hilariously broken. Similarly, their love transcends culture, as Jamie does not let his British stiff-upper-lip get in the way of his happiness.
Harry, Karen and Mia
Harry (Alan Rickman) is married to Karen (Emma Thompson) and they live with their children in the non-dodgy end of Wandsworth. Harry manages a design agency, whilst Mia (Heike Makatsch) is employed as his new secretary. When Mia displays sexual affection towards Harry, he becomes torn between his love for Karen and lust for Mia. For Christmas he buys Mia an expensive necklace; Karen catches him ‘loitering around in the jewellery section’ which in a cruel irony she thinks is for her. Harry’s indecisiveness allows Karen to find out who the necklace was actually for.
Harry, Karen and Mia’s love triangle is the most tragic story in Love Actually. This becomes apparent when she catches Harry and Mia dancing intimately to Norah Jones’ ‘Turn Me On’ at the office’s Christmas party. However, it is when Karen is given a copy of Joni Mitchell’s CD ‘Both Sides Now’ that the CD motif in the film is cleverly used by both and Harry and Jamie’s brother to legitimise their affairs, especially for Karen who tells Harry that ‘Joni Mitchell is the women who taught your cold English wife how to feel.’ Karen leans to forgive but never forget the wrong-doing of her husband, and like Karen, I have – in the wise words and crucially genius use of Joni Mitchell’s song – ‘… Looked at love from both sides now from give and take and still somehow… I really don’t know love at all.’
For me, as a lonely fifteen year old getting over a break-up and growing out of the emo phase, Love Actually provided me the sweet escape and life lessons needed to change from misanthropy and self-loathing. Through the use of the greatly written characters’ interconnections, beautifully orchestrated and selected soundtrack and brilliant Christmas setting, I learned that every individual right or wrong, happy or sad, beautiful or ugly, all had a unique tale of love. And in this world where we often forget about the kindness and goodness of human being, Love Actually is the film that transcends the structures of our lives and allows us to remember the crucial subtext: that love actually is all around. And that is why Love Actually is the best Christmas film, actually.