Love Actually is a predominantly British cast, portmanteau Christmas film written and directed by Richard Curtis, a man most famous for his writing credits on Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral. He has an incredible knack for creating sweet, sentimental films without them being over-bearing or too saccharine. His previous body of work deftly combines uplifting, heart-breaking and decidedly comic situations to create very watchable, if slightly messy films. The epitome of this approach is Love Actually.
Like all portmanteau films, Love Actually follows various groups of people in the lead up to Christmas. The structure of the film acts like a countdown to the festive season, with a small epilogue to show what happens to them all after the event. The principal cast includes the following storylines: Daniel (Liam Neeson) is dealing with the death of his wife, when his stepson Sam (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) announces that he’s in love with a girl from school and doesn’t know what to do about it. Aging rock star Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) trying to score one last hit song at Christmas. Mark (Andrew Lincoln) trying to deal with his feelings for his best friend’s wife Juliet (Keira Knightley). Writer Jamie (Colin Firth) slowly falling in love with his new housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz). Sarah (Laura Linney) struggles to spend time with a man she’s infatuated with (Rodrigo Santoro) because her ‘love’ keeps calling her. Harry (Alan Rickman) considers cheating on his wife Karen (Emma Thompson) with a new office secretary. Meanwhile, Karen’s brother David (Hugh Grant) is the new Prime Minister and starts to fall in love with a junior member of the household staff Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) and almost falls out with the President of the United States (Billy Bob Thornton) over the matter.
The above is a description of the main story threads running throughout Love Actually and doesn’t even include roles for Martin Freeman, Joanna Page, Kris Marshall, Shannon Elizabeth, Elisha Cuthbert, Denise Richards, Rowan Atkinson and January Jones. As you can see there is a lot happening in a film that is slightly over two hours long, and this is where the problem lies. There’s too much story to cram in and the film needed a strong editor to cut quite a few of the stories out as most do not add anything special other than a few laughs. Unlike New Year’s Eve, however, the majority of the central action is fantastic.
Love Actually tries to tick every emotional and comic box on its lead-in to Christmas and in most circumstances it gets it absolutely right. Thompson’s one-woman breakdown on the discover of her husband’s potential infidelity and Linney’s failure to ‘get with’ the man of her dreams are heart-breaking and just show what talented actresses they both are. Nighy gets most of the laughs as the inappropriate old-school rocker who’ll say or do anything to get the Christmas number one. Lincoln’s childish refusal to accept his feelings for his best friends wife is played both very sweetly and very realistically. While Grant and Firth bring the traditional rom-com element with prince and the pauper storylines that unfeasibly work.
It is shame then that Love Actually spends so much time is wasted on stories that have no point other than to reinforce the stronger ones. In fact, if you removed 4 of the side-stories you’d have a much tighter and better flowing film. But the film is so wonderfully funny, irreverent and sweet (without being sickly) that it is almost a perfect Christmas film. As each year passes it slowly takes its place as one of the best Christmas films around and Richard Curtis proves that he has just as much talent when it comes to heart-warming sentimentality as John Hughes.