Shiny Shelf

Love Actually

By Iain Hepburn on 18 November 2003

Being the archetypical cynical hack, it would be ridiculously easy to look upon ‘Love Actually’ as yet another churned-out piece of schmaltz from the Richard Curtis production line, a factory populated by eastern European slave labour whose entire English vocabulary consists of upper-middle class platitudes and mild expletives.

Curtis, after all, has shown very little of the comic genius that made his ‘Blackadder’ scripts such a delight to listen to. Rather than the original, blindingly funny dialogue of old, he’s relied on a variety of charmless stereotypes, drawn from an England that rarely, if ever, existed beyond Trevor Howard films and Ealing comedies. From ‘Four Weddings’ to ‘Bridget Jones’ to ‘The Vicar of Dibley’, you know exactly what you’re going to get with a Richard Curtis script.

So with that in mind, it would be incredibly easy to hate ‘Love Actually’, which is filled to the absolute brim with the same cliches and Britromcom stylings as everything else he’s done. Except, of course, that to do so would be to fall into his carefully, possibly even cunningly prepared trap. For ‘Love Actually’ is very good, actually.

What Curtis has done is set up his own, sex obsessed, British comedy version of ‘Short Cuts’. A good half-dozen or so romantic tales, featuring a group of people who all exist, albeit peripherally, within each other’s social circle – from the Prime Minister to a sandwich delivery boy – and how their quests and desire for love, sex and romance run parallel during the weeks before Christmas.

Running alongside their many stories – some bittersweet, some laugh-out-loud funny – is the bridging material, featuring ageing rock star and recovering drug addict Billy Mack’s attempts to relaunch his pop career with a truly godawful Christmas themed cover of ‘Love Is All Around’ (ironically enough, Curtis’ own theme tune thanks to ‘Four Weddings’ and, in a cruel yet outstandingly marketed twist of fate, is set to battle it out for the Christmas number one slot for real).

Filled with just about every card-carrying member of Equity, the cast are, with the exception of Andrew Lincoln, immensely watchable – and Lincoln isn’t bad per se, just saddled with his usual attempt to do an accent beyond his range (ie anything which isn’t northern). The performers look to be having a whale of a time, making the most of the cappuccino-frothy script to produce some great screen pairings. The two most notable – and most featured in the press – are undoubtedly the duos of Martine McCutcheon and Hugh Grant, who display a fine on-screen chemistry and charm, and the ever-reliable thesp partnership of Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who Curtis wisely gives the serious acting work to.

Indeed, the storyline centred of Thompson and Rickman (of the potential middle age crisis and infidelity of the latter’s character) and that fixed around Laura Linney (of a woman unable to form a serious relationship with the man she fancies at her work because of her committment to caring for her mentally ill brother) seem slightly out of place and awkwardly joined to the at-times knockabout stuff elsewhere in the film. Both storylines, unlike the rest of the film, lack resolution and are too heavily tilted towards pathos than comedy, and despite the best efforts of the performers involved are the most unsatisfying part of the film.

But Curtis by and large rises to the challenge of juggling so many stories and characters, to produce the ideal alternative to this year’s ‘Matrix’/'Rings’ multiplex festive showdown. Love may actually be all around, and it’ll certainly prove a fixture at the box office this Christmas.

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By Iain Hepburn

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