But, looking closer, you realise that this is in fact a very closely linked community. Every character is linked to at least one other by love. The variety of loving relationships shown is huge, there’s family, friendship, unrequited love and, just occasionally, a spark of ‘true love’. No single story line is more or less important, even the more light-hearted and comic stories have real emotional backing. The plotline where Thomas Sangster plays a lovestruck 12 year old desperate to win over the most popular girl at school is actually, and far more importantly, the story of him learning to love his step-father after his mother’s death. Laura Linney’s shy and inept search for romance is in fact mainly hampered by her unstoppable love for a brother in need. These understated, non-romantic relationships are some of the most tender in the film.
Technically, the film is structured as a long series of vignettes where every protagonist explores their own emotional journey. What’s truly ingenious is the way the vignettes are blended into a cohesive whole. This changes between them following certain characters as they shift between their casual and corporate situations, or by switching on a phone call. One character calls another and their vignette is over, passed onto the character they call. Also there are the transitions based around editing matches. Often a vignette will just cut abruptly to the next but the two shots will match in light, colour or composition. We’re so used to seeing jump cuts in narrative that it doesn’t feel jarring to watch. Best of all are the transitions filled out by music. At the end of a scene a piece of diegetic music will suddenly become louder in the mix only to cut and become a soundtrack of the next vignette.
Love Actually is, in a sense, a Christmas film. It’s set in the six weeks leading up to Christmas and includes such rituals as nativity plays and present shopping. Yet, unlike the majority of “Christmas films” it doesn’t extoll some cheesy Christmas message, there’s no magic of the season, there’s no elves waiting in the wings. More than anything it just tells people to love each other, which, after all is really the point of Christmas. Back at its roots Christmas is a celebration of God’s love and even in a secular context it’s entirely possible to honour that by just showing love to one another as much as possible.
In many ways Love Actually is the natural high point of Richard Curtis’s work. Writing another part for Hugh Grant to shine in, refining the intricate web of relationships and translation-based humour from Four Weddings and A Funeral (who can forget that sign language scene?) but before delving too deep into the psychology of male companionship in The Boat that Rocked and About Time. Looking at those two films, written after Love Actually, it seems like Love Actually knocked all the love stories right out of him. Probably with good reason, the final scene of Love Actually set in the arrivals gate at Heathrow shows us at least eight happy endings for the characters we know and millions of other happy endings for the characters we don’t know. In a way, ending the film there means that most of the stories shown in Love Actually are never actually shown, we just glance them in passing at the arrivals gate. It brings home the mandate that “love actually is all around” every person we see kissing or embracing has a love story of their own to tell. Every person you walk past loves or is loved by someone and their story is as valuable as every story shown in this film.
True to the spirit of Love Actually I’d like to wish every one of you a very Merry Christmas, feel it in your fingers, feel it in your toes….
- Entertainment: 5/5
- Artistic: 3/5
- Intellectual: 3/5