25 November 2021 311 Views

#TBT LOVE ACTUALLY begins the inevitable ‘Christmas Movie’ countdown debate..

by James Murphy

Christmas comes but once a year. And when it comes..so do the memes..

..and  the inevitable review bundle /debate regarding..

..what makes a ‘Christmas’ movie. 

LOVE ACTUALLY is the usual first port of call, it seems. So call this a pre-emptive strike.

I am sentimental about this film. I met lovely Martine McCutcheon when the release hype was at full tilt, amidst graduation ceremonies and shopping Mall launches. Happy times. Martine did call me ‘suave and debonair’: another bonus!

Around 2007, I pitched a sequel or 2. As in ‘Actually‘ commences a kind of trilogy? Love Possibly would be part 2. Love Definitely, the victory lap last hurrah for the romcom.

My pitch focused on Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister. If part 1 served his rise to power and honeymoon? Then the darker middle chapter is the consolidation and fall, with part 3 his attempted return and resolution /acceptance.

There would of course be other characters both old and new and answers to many lingering questions from the first movie. I wanted David Tennant to play the leader of HM Opposition and Nicole Kidman to be the new lady POTUS.

The Curtis team loved it! Emma Freud has become a dearly valued correspondent in the subsequent years. I advise whenever I can on who to put in which film and what cool brand can be harnessed in Comic Relief. Emma is absurdly generous in time and spirit.

As to why my pitch never made it past a few hopeful outlines? It’s simple. Richard Curtis does not ‘do’ sequels, save the occasional skit for Comic Relief. Instead, the man has a kind of formula. There is zero need to serialise or follow up a film when the themes, motifs and indeed certain key players and even comedic / other beats can transfer to self contained films.

LOVE ACTUALLY is in essence a summary of that Curtis ethos. Each segment of the film IS  a mini movie. Very Robert Altman, with dash of Capra, satire, consumer gloss, genuine heart and even a Kubrick layer of both darkness and light.

Altogether, one feels this movie, at least, in retrospect, to be a kind of farewell tour to the greatest hits. Some awkward social bumbling. A few tender romantic moments. Pratfalls /physical/verbal comedy. English idylls, with American filters.

LOVE ACTUALLY =  4 Weddings meets Notting Hill via BlackAdder, Mr Bean and even Bernard and the Genie. Rowan Atkinson’s character is even meant to be a secret angel, sent down to stand in the way of true love’s opponents. 

Curtis did of course make other movies. I adore BOAT THAT ROCKED, though am less keen on ABOUT TIME. Both movies need a Hugh Grant. He’s Curtis’ magic box office talisman.

And like it or not? LOVE ACTUALLY was and is, still, the perfect commercial, ensemble, best of British branding on film. Much imitated. Never matched.

Is the movie perfect? Of course not! Even cultural milestones have momentary millstones attached. There are too many storylines, even with the ones they had to cut. The mental health aspect (Laura Linney and Michael FitzGerald’s scenes) = v rushed. It does little if anything to serve either its cause or the drama in the film.

I’m not a huge fan of Colin Firth playing the wally (again). Neeson’s banter with the kid is in need of a script doctor.

There is a bit of social engineering, too. Notice the beginning of middle to upper class families descending on a state school Nativity play. This is now THE compulsory facet of EVERY SINGLE BBC /other sitcom, where frightfully rushed parents seem to at once have limitless wealth yet also money worries and endless time to engage with the local school with whom they are also somehow out of favour? Ersatz Curtis. Yuck! 🙂

Also, the ‘where the fuck is my fucking coat’ line should have been excised, on principle. Working class people do NOT talk like that, especially in front of families, at Christmas. 

Thing is, though? If I am able to dissect a movie a lot? Then  it has legacy, vitality, timeless importance. You don’t need to make a big deal of not liking this film. Even if, almost 20 years after its initial release, people keep doing just that.

Conversely, I and many others love, LOVE ACTUALLY and therefore award it an annual seasonal defence. It IS funny. Keira Knightley is adorable here. JANUARY JONES!!! BILL  NIGHY IS HILARIOUS!!!

The film says important things about Britain and its place in the world, such that actual real world politicians have tried echoing its sentiments on occasion?

The production design and score/soundtrack are beautiful. Craig Armstrong’s best work before ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE /INCREDIBLE HULK.

Emma Freud’s camerawork/edits on the airport scenes are things of beauty. This is an aesthetic event on film, of cultural and arguably, moral significance. There is a pervasive love of London and its landscapes, akin to say SKYFALL a decade later. Memo to the Bond people: hire Emma and Richard on BOND 26!

LOVE ACTUALLY is not perfect. But it radiates energy, joy, laughter and as its own title indicates, love. It’s a movie about..well, love, movies and love OF artforms.

This was the dawn of the metatextual in cinema, before it became a pain in the arse. It’s the peak of third way centrist multi cultural inclusive optimistic Britain which we neglect or abandon as an ideal, at our communal peril.

Though containing pure daydream fantasy, the promise at the heart of the stories is all too real and timeless. Love can conquer all, it is a part of life and it is a vital, magical force for hope and progress.

In that sense, yes, absolutely:

LOVE ACTUALLY = THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS TREAT! 



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