You’ll never see this classic Christmas film the same way again.
So it’s Christmas, and we’re probably all settling down to watch some of our all-time favourite seasonal films. It’s the most wonderful time of the year (or so they say), so I don’t want to be too downbeat.
But if you’re planning on watching Love Actually, I’d suggest you have a quick rethink before you do. Love Actually is one of those saccharine films that everyone either seems to love, and those who don’t seem to love to hate it. I am one of those haters, for far too many reasons than I can list.
But the main reason I am so down on Love Actually, is because of how awful and even downright unhealthy some of the relationships it presents are. I’ve talked about this before, but seeing as it’s Christmas I want to go a bit further than simply scratching the surface of this (admittedly superficial) film. So, here are all the relationships in Love Actually examined – let the analysis begin:
Jamie and Aurelia (Colin Firth and Lucia Moniz)
Ok, so some people think that two people who don’t speak the same language falling in love is terribly romantic. Why? I ask you, why? What can that love be based on except physical attraction?
While Jamie and Aurelia make a smouldering pair, there is the teeny tiny fact that the only reason Jamie has escaped to France (where Aurelia, a Portuguese woman, works as his housekeeper) is because he’s been cheated on and needs a break from all of the heartache back in England (soothing the anguish in warmer climes is alright for some I guess). Anyhow, the fact of this essentially makes poor Aurelia a rebound! Now I’m definitely not saying that rebounds can’t go anywhere, but it’s important to remember that Jamie is not coming to this relationship without some fairly significant baggage. And of course, Aurelia wouldn’t really know that, BECAUSE SHE CAN”T UNDERSTAND HIM.
Anyhow, it’s nice that they both eventually (and miraculously quickly) learn each other’s languages, but I’m not really sure that this is the kind of relationship we should be idolising.
Juliet, Peter and Mark (Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Andrew Lincoln)
This one is a weird one (well, they all are). Juliet and Peter are newly married. Mark is Peter’s best friend, and also his wedding videographer. Juliet believes that Mark hates her as he never speaks to her and is always cold and distant. When Juliet visits Mark’s house to check up on the progress of the wedding video and watches it, she realises the video solely involves close-ups of her. We’re supposed to find Mark’s stalkerish obsession with Juliet endearing; it’s actually really intrusive. The man won’t even speak to her and yet he objectifies her, turning what should be a nice wedding film into a kind of homage to a muse who hasn’t even agreed to take on the role of muse.
What’s worse is that Juliet’s character promotes the sense that Mark’s behaviour is endearing by appearing to actually find him endearing herself. Like I’ve said before – would you find the oglings of some weird guy you’ve never spoken to attractive?
Sam and Joanna (Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Olivia Olson)
Admittedly, this ‘relationship’ is very sweet as it involves two pre-teens who at most want to hold hands. Although quite saccharine, it is more of a vehicle through which Sam’s widowed step-father (played by Liam Neeson) tries to get over his grief by helping Sam ‘get the girl’.
Like in the weird attraction that Mark has for Juliet, Sam never really speaks to Joanna and instead tries a multitude of things to ‘impress’ her, including learning to play the drums. Also, when Joanna leaves the UK for America, Sam’s step-dad bizarrely encourages him to break through airport security so that he can say bye to her one last time. He does this and she bestows a kiss on him – how sweet.
The main issue is that Love Actually seems hell bent on convincing people that obsessing over but never speaking to the person you fancy/love is normal and the right way to do things. Sam and Mark (from the Juliet and Peter tryst) are both presented as extremely endearing. And yet, this kind of obsession is really unpleasant in real life for those on the receiving end.
Colin and the American girls – Stacey, Jeannie, Carol-Anne and Harriet (Kris Marshall, Ivana Miličević, January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert and Shannon Elizabeth)
This one is just a fantasy for teenage boys. Colin, having no success with British girls, decides to try his luck in the USA, believing that the old myth about Americans fancying people with British accents might just be true.
So, off he heads to the states, massive suitcase of condoms in tow. He then meets the American girls – Stacey, Jeannie and Carol-Anne – who seem to be intoxicated by his accent, and invite him back to theirs where he meets their roommate Harriet. He seems to engage in a lot of sex with all of them and then bizarrely takes the one of his choosing back to England.
Apart from this playing into weird stereotypes about American women doing literally anything just to ensnare a British-accented man, this relationship-scenario also portrays relationships themselves as something where men can just pick the girl they think is hottest and then have their cake and eat it – it’s ridiculous. Some crazy (male) fantasist probably came up with this, and thought bringing it to the silver screen was his best hope of making such scenarios a reality…
Harry, Karen and Mia (Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson and Heike Makatsch)
This is one of my least favourite relationship scenarios. It’s not so much that Harry strays into infidelity with his secretary Mia, and causes much devastation to Karen, but the way he does it and the awful construction of Mia’s character.
For starters, Mia is his secretary, which already makes the dynamic of their ‘relationship’ a bit weird. And then there are absolutely zero attempts from the scriptwriters to humanise Mia’s character, instead turning her into a narcissistic and cruel-minded temptress who literally exists only to steal men from good women. This heavily stereotyped portrayal of ‘the other woman’ is incredibly unfair from a gendered perspective as it makes it far easier for viewers to just blame Mia.
Of course, this scenario is brilliantly acted, and many of us watch Emma Thompson’s devastation and feel it as our devastation. But the idea that the younger, sexier temptress will always win the day is very much a part of this scenario and, judging by the age difference of many of the pairings in Love Actually, is a key message of the film.
Billy Mack and Joe (Bill Nighy and Gregor Fisher)
This one is a major issue because it’s pretty much proof of Love Actually’s actual squeamishness when it comes to gay relationships. The film is very keen to insist that the ‘love’ between Billy Mack, an ageing rock star, and his manager Joe is JUST PLATONIC.
Billy’s character is objectively objectionable – he’s rude to everyone and spends a significant proportion of his time fat-shaming his manager – which is just fundamentally not healthy in any relationship, platonic or otherwise.
With gay ‘jokes’ and fat ‘jokes’ in abundance, this really is a very unpleasant little scenario.
David and Natalie (Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon)
I’d be prepared to say that this is the worst relationship in Love Actually hands down. David is the newly elected prime minister, Natalie is a junior member of his household staff. As soon as they meet, there is a tangible sexual and/or romantic attraction between the pair.
This would be all good in normal circumstances, except these aren’t normal circumstances. David (though perhaps indirectly) is very much Natalie’s boss. She is very junior within the household, he is the person with the most power in the whole country. This power dynamic automatically makes any unfolding relationship between the pair problematic. Oh and again, she’s clearly quite a lot younger than him and happens to call him ‘sir’ (yuk!)
And then the US president visits. He is extremely leery and creepy with Natalie, and David walks in at a moment where the president appears to have placed Natalie in a compromising position. David apparently ‘saves’ Natalie from the president but then also seems to blame her for what has happened and has her moved into another role, presumably so she won’t ‘distract’ him any more. This is a really awful relationship, where Natalie has literally no agency and is wholly submissive to David’s will. And just because David is played by the endearingly bumbling Hugh Grant, it doesn’t mean that we should forget that this weird dynamic exists.
Sarah and Karl (Laura Linney and Rodrigo Santoro)
This is a pretty sad story. Sarah and Karl are co-workers, with a clear mutual attraction. Yet Sarah has a brother with mental health difficulties, who calls her up when she’s just hooked up with Karl. Why this fact should appear to derail the entire course of her relationship is beyond me. Just because Sarah has other focuses in her life, it does not mean she should be consigned to the scrapheap and unable to find love.
Yet that’s what Love Actually tries to make us think, showing that her attempts to woo Karl fizzle into nothingness.
John and Judy (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page)
Hooray, we have come to the end of all the awfulness! This relationship, while it builds up in the weird environment of the pair being body doubles in a film for sex scenes, is actually ok! Hallelujah!
The two characters seem to be evenly matched and have genuine conversations of some substance. It’s a breath of fresh air in a film like Love Actually that doesn’t seem to actually (or factually) have much love in it at all.
Oh and, just to finish: if you’re peeved at the incredibly white-washed, un-gentrified picture of London the film presents, the rampant misogyny and fat-shaming, and the unending gay-jokes – I am too.
Merry Christmas and avoid Love Actually this year!