Richard Curtis’ “Love Actually” is often misunderstood as an ensemble romantic comedy, intertwining numerous criss-crossing plots in the run up to Christmas. It is, in fact, an avante garde adaptation of a grand British Christmas institution: “Love Actually” is the cinematic adaptation of a tin of Cadbury’s Roses (or Quality Street if you prefer, but does anyone really prefer Quality Street?)
Like a tin of Roses, “Love Actually” is terribly, terribly sweet and wolfing it down in one go could make you feel a little bit queasy from all the sugar.
There’s no denying it’s a star-studded selection on offer, and you might have to root around a little until you find your favourite story to unwrap and savour. There are light, caramel filled stories: Jamie & Aurelia (Colin Firth and Lúcia Moniz) , John & Judy (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page) and rich, indulgent truffles like David & Natalie (Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon) and Juliet, Peter & Mark (Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Andrew Lincoln). If you’re in the mood for something that needs a little more rumination, there are toffees to chew on such as Harry, Karen & Mia (Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson and Heike Makatsch) or Daniel and his stepson Sam (Liam Neeson and Thomas Sangster) or bittersweet coffee flavour of Sarah (Laura Linney)’s tale. There are even ones with nutty centres (Bill Nighy and Gregor Fisher). And of course, no tin of Roses would be complete without the one which always gets left until last, the one you wish the makers just left out. The strawberry crème of “Love Actually” is the puerile, adolescent wish fulfilment of Kris Marshall’s Colin and his adventures in Wisconsin.
Overall, though, it’s a well-made film and Curtis’ direction is confident and assured, even though he’s juggling multiple, overlapping plotlines and constantly teetering on the edge of the whole thing being overwhelmed by sentimentality. The performances are generally solid throughout, although Emma Thompson particularly stands out and Martine McCutcheon feels a little bit out of her depth amongst a cast of this calibre.
It’s a film replete nice moments and talking points which last long after the credits have rolled. Is the reference to September 11th in Hugh Grant’s opening monologue misjudged? Did Harry actually cheat on his wife with his secretary or was he only thinking about it? How far would Sam have got in the airport nowadays before being tazered and/ or shot?
With great cameos from the likes of Rowan Atkinson, Billy Bob Thornton, Marcus Brigestocke and Julia Davis, this is a film which eschews any real Christmas magic in favour of celebrating love itself, using the holiday season to bring the multifaceted aspects of love into sharper focus. While individually the stories vary in the quality of the narratives and resolutions, when woven together, there’s a general sense of warm and fuzzy wellbeing that masks any flaws and makes this a comforting film to crack open on a winter’s evening and rummage through for a forgotten treat.