In defence of Love Actually: Why it's a firm Christmas favourite almost 20 years on

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a little cheese now, would it?

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Peter Mountain/Universal/Dna/Working Title/Kobal/Shutterstock (5884946c)
Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon
Love Actually - 2003
Director: Richard Curtis
Universal/Dna/Working Title
Scene Still
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December hasn’t even arrived yet, and I’m already approximately 12 Christmas films deep.

And between the cheesy new releases sprinkled among Netflix’s Festive Favourites category, there are the staples that I return to every year to get myself into the spirit of the season.

Close to the top of that list is Love Actually, which, almost unbelievably, is celebrating its 20th anniversary next year. To mark the occasion, several of the film’s ensemble cast, including Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy and Thomas Brodie-Sangster, will reunite with the film’s writer-director Richard Curtis for a televised special, scheduled for broadcast on ABC in the US next week.

While the news has excited many, it’s also brought the film’s many haters back out to play, ready to denounce its flaws to all who will listen. And while, yes, Love Actually does often focus too much on the shallow kind of love, it also tackles love in many forms, with story threads that swerve the usual Christmas cheese but still leave your heart warmed.

So, while it may be terribly uncool, I am here to say, loud and proud, that I love Love Actually, warts and all.

It tackles the kind of heartbreak and grief that we all go through in life without glossing over it or forcing happy endings for the sake of cinema. Take Thomson’s character, who, while busily creating lobster costumes for her children’s school nativities, finds out her husband, played by Alan Rickman, has been buying expensive jewellery for another woman for Christmas.

We watch as she cries silent tears with her children in the next room, and confronts Rickman’s character in a logical and poised way. There are no fireworks or blazing rows, no dramatic tears in the rain, just a mother trying to process and figure out if and how to hold her family together. And the film doesn’t feel the need to give us an answer one way or the other.

Then there’s Linney’s character, a graphic designer who’s had a crush on her co-worker from afar for years, and when the opportunity to act on it finally arises, she is distracted by having to care for her mentally disabled brother, who calls her incessantly from his care home. It’s another strand of the story without that Hollywood happy ending, and instead represents the kind of inconvenient, unconditional love so commonly found between family members.

It portrays a struggling stepfather figuring out how to help his grieving stepson, 10, who has just lost his mother, and is dealing with his first bout of unrequited love.

It shows the awkward early stages of romance that we have all had to cringe our way through. And even, somehow, finds a way to evoke emotion from a storyline involving a man having feelings for his best friend’s wife. And it manages to show these uncomfortable moments wrapped up in a not-so-neat Christmas bow.

Of course, alongside these tangled, complicated and messy portrayals of love, there’s plenty of the kind of grand gesture moments we’d expect from a romcom, but those who write the entire thing off as one big cliche are wrong. Anyway, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a little cheese now, would it?

So that’s why for 20 years, Love Actually has remained a Christmas staple in my household, and why it will do for the next 20. And I for one am glad that love actually is all around.

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