Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 30 November 2020

A spirited defence of the festive British rom-com ‘Love Actually’

As the British rom-com tops a Ranker poll of best Christmas movies, Gemma White reveals why the oft-criticised flick is a festive staple in her house

Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon star in 'Love Actually', which topped a Ranker poll of the best Christmas rom-coms. Moviestore / Shutterstock
Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon star in 'Love Actually', which topped a Ranker poll of the best Christmas rom-coms. Moviestore / Shutterstock

Oh, so you don’t like Love Actually?

You think it's cheesy and basic. You think its narrow focus on the lives of the (predominantly) white, rich, middle class fails to represent modern Britain, and you do an actual full-body clench when Keira Knightley says: “I look quite pretty”?

Okay, look, I can’t fight you on the last two points, but as far the cheesy and basic accusations go, to quote Mindy Kaling in The Office: “I have a question – how dare you?”

So, I’m taking this moment to hold aloft my cup of marshmallow-topped hot chocolate and declare loudly and proudly: I love Love Actually!

I start watching it around mid-November when the first batch of Christmas presents requires wrapping and I need something on TV that sets the festive mood and doesn’t require my abject attention.

Make no mistake, this is not the time to have anything directed by Stanley Kubrick or Christopher Nolan on in the background.

Editorial use only. No book cover usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Peter Mountain/Universal/Dna/Working Title/Kobal/Shutterstock (5884946e) Thomas Sangster, Emma Thompson Love Actually - 2003 Director: Richard Curtis Universal/Dna/Working Title UK Scene Still Comedy
Emma Thompson brings a tear-jerking poignancy to her role as a cheated on wife. Peter Mountain / Universal

As I cut reindeer-embossed wrapping paper and try to find the end of the Sellotape, I find it comforting to know that Jamie will eventually get with Aurelia, Billy Mack will beat Blue to the number one spot, and Colin will find one or four women who appreciate his “cute British accent”.

Like pulling on an old, soft, chunky knit sweater, I can rest cosily and easily knowing that there are no jump scares, no prolonged shoot-outs, and that absolutely no one gets horribly maimed or killed (although I do worry about the occupants of the car Colin Firth crashes into).

Love Actually has been a Christmas staple in my house since its release back in 2003.

Ah, 17 years ago, when people still visited department stores to buy gifts, and worked side-by-side in offices. When they attended (or starred in) school plays featuring child singing prodigies, and flew to Wisconsin in approximately 45 seconds.

Does Love Actually have its problems? Of course, it does.

For instance, the lack of ethnic diversity in the cast is appalling and in no way represents London or the UK. For that should we blame writer, Richard Curtis, who also penned the overwhelmingly white Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary?

Editorial use only. No book cover usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/Shutterstock (1575158a) Love Actually, Andrew Lincoln Film and Television
Andrew Lincoln and Keira Knightley have a complicated relationship in the film. Moviestore / Shutterstock

Lulu Popplewell, the actress who played Daisy the Nativity lobster, and is now 29, has her own issues with the film.

Describing it as “cheesy and sexist”, she recently told the Almost Famous podcast: “I think it’s aged badly. All the women in it are sort of passive objects. On re-watching, it’s not great.”

And to this list of accusations I would add: Men not Whatsapping to say: “Hey, don’t worry about your brother phoning in the middle of our date, let’s go out next Thursday instead.”

Yes, I’m looking at you, Karl!

But, for me, these things fade into insignificance as Bill Nighy’s ageing rock star Billy Mack drawls: “Yes, it is, Ant or Dec”, because he can’t bothered to tell the British TV presenting duo apart.

Or when Emma Thompson straightens the duvet cover as a way of pulling herself together, because although her husband ruined Christmas for her, she doesn’t want to spoil it for the kids.

Or when Hugh Grant tells a certain President exactly what he should be prepared for because, I mean, come on, who didn’t want Tony Blair to do the same at the time?

And those are the reasons why, if I ever get gloomy about the state of the world, I watch Love Actually.

Still not convinced about Love Actually?

Here are 5 other classic festive films you might like while you eat mince pies and argue over whether Die Hard and Gremlins should be considered Christmas movies

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

Editorial use only. No book cover usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/Shutterstock (1591779a) It's A Wonderful Life, Jimmy Hawkins, James Stewart, Donna Reed, Carol Coombs, Larry Simms Film and Television
A scene from 'It's a Wonderful Life'. Moviestore / Shutterstock

This Frank Capra-directed tear-jerker set on Christmas Eve, finds beloved savings and loan clerk, George Bailey (James Stewart) considering ending his life. Then an angel visits to show him what would have happened to the townsfolk if he had never existed. Tissues at the ready.

‘Scrooged’

Bill Murray stars in this take on the classic, A Christmas Carol, as a heartless TV executive who makes his staff work late on Christmas Eve. He gets visited by three ghosts to show him the error of his ways.

‘Home Alone’

Macauley Culkin’s Kevin McCallister gets left at home by his neglectful parents when they jet off to Paris without him. Pretty soon he’s single-handedly running the household and taking down two neighbourhood burglars.

‘The Snowman’

This silent animation is a feast for the eyes as a young boy builds a snowman, only to have him come to life on Christmas Eve and take him on a magical journey to visit Santa. Aled Jones’s Walking in the Air is a musical highlight.

‘Santa Claus: The Movie’

The special effects in this 1985 movie have aged about as well as you’d expect, but as far as a family-friendly film with a message goes, it’s a winner. The late, great, Dudley Moore stars at Patch the elf who turns his back on the true spirit of Christmas. But Santa and his elves are on hand to super duper looper him back into the fold.

Updated: November 11, 2020 02:50 PM

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