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Love in the Time of Christmas: Love Actually

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Triparna Kalita

If there is any movie that comes to my mind every time the festive season of Christmas is around, it has to be Richard Curtis’ iconic romantic holiday 2003 film, Love Actually, who has also written several notable romantic comedies, including “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and “About Time.” The warmth of this movie feels like a hug you want to wrap around yourself on a chilly winter evening! The movie’s core theme is love, and it is based on nine storylines that are marvelously intertwined and are all set in London. The protagonists of the stories either discover their love interests or have their hearts broken during the joyous Christmas celebrations.

The movie experiments with all kinds of love: platonic, familial, love that transcends borders and language barriers, and even, unrequited love. The opening scene is based in Heathrow Airport where people await to greet and welcome their dear ones and to which the narrator (Hugh Grant) gives us an idea of love underlying in the movie: “Love might not be dignified or newsworthy but it is everywhere.”

The story begins with the Christmas-themed cover song of “Love is all around us” by Billy Mack (Bill Nighy), a rock legend who aims to make his ‘crappy’ song Britain’s number one. The song, played in various scenes of the movie, happens to be the only connection with the other stories. John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) fall in love while working as body doubles in an erotic movie. Mark (Andrew Lincoln) has a crush on his best friend, Peter’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wife, Juliet (Keira Knightley), a little secret he keeps to himself. Newly elected Prime Minister, David (Hugh Grant) falls head over heels for Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), his catering manager, the day he moves to his official residence at 10 Downing Street. His sister, Karen (Emma Thompson) is happily married to Harry (Alan Rickman), a director of a design agency, who has an alleged affair with his secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch). Karen is acquainted with widower Daniel (Liam Neeson), who assists Sam (Thomas Sangster), his 10-year-old stepson, in confessing his feelings for his American crush, Joanna (Olivia Olson). Crime novelist, Jamie (Colin Firth), and his Portuguese housekeeper, Aurelia (Lucia Moniz), are in love. Harry’s employee Sarah (Laura Linney) harbours a romantic interest in Karl, the creative director. Lastly, Colin (Kris Marshall), Peter and Juliet’s wedding caterer, quite unlucky in love, believes that he is meant for American girls as they love the British accent and sets out on a journey to Wisconsin to make his American dream come true.

Even though the focus of the film is on the romantic lives of the characters, there are also tragic and heartbreaking scenes in it. It considers the constraints and bounds of love. This was shown in Sarah’s story. Sarah has a huge crush on Karl but never mustered the courage to ask him out. After their office party, Karl is also shown to be attracted to her. However, she was constantly interrupted by phone calls from her brother, who has a mental illness. She was willing to sacrifice her happiness for the sake of her brother. On Christmas, Karl wishes Sarah and leaves the office. Heartbroken and sad, Sarah joins her brother to celebrate Christmas with him.

The scene in which Karen learned of Harry’s infidelity was another heartbreaking scene in the film. Karen was a contented woman who shared a loving friendship with her old friend, Daniel. When she found the beautiful heart-shaped pendant inside her “not-so-romantic” husband’s pockets, she was elated. Her joy, however, was short-lived when Harry gave her favourite musician, Joni Mitchell’s CD rather than the necklace she had anticipated. She realises he has given the necklace to someone else. Karen silently cries in her room with Mitchell’s song playing in the background. Later, she takes her kids out for ice cream to celebrate Christmas Eve to cheer herself up. She handled her situation with maturity and did not dissolve her marriage.

It is noteworthy to mention that the writer used certain recurring motifs to celebrate his stories of love, the glue that binds them together. Firstly, the festival of Christmas was used as a backdrop in the movie as the day of love, realization, and loss. As Mark mentioned on one of his cue cards, while pouring his heart out to Juliet, “Because it’s Christmas and at Christmas, you speak the truth”, indicates the importance of the festival. Similarly, Sarah realizes the importance of her brother in her life and celebrates the day with him. Karen discovers her husband’s affair because of the ‘Christmas’ gift he bought for his young secretary. Moreover, Christmas festivities at the local school were used as the place of contact where the characters meet and where David and Natalie’s relationship is made public. Secondly, airports also serve another important role. At the beginning of the movie, the narrator tells us that the airports are places where we can witness all kinds of affection and that, love actually is all around. It is also where Sam confesses his love to Joanna. And by the end of 120 minutes, we see that most of the characters are warmly welcomed at the arrival gates!

Love Actually would be incomplete if I do not mention Rowan Atkinson’s character, Rufus. He has a small role in the movie, but an impactful one. He first appears in a comical scene as a salesman at the jewellery store where Harry buys a pendant for Mia. His extended time of wrapping the pendant nearly results in Karen noticing Harry buying that gift. In another scenario, he distracts the airport security guards, allowing Sam to sneak in to the departure gate and profess his love to Joanna.

The movie allows its audience to go through a roller coaster of emotions. Mark confessing his undying love for Juliet with the help of cue cards is undoubtedly the most romantic scene ever. Although unspoken, it speaks so much about love! Juliet, however, gives Mark a parting kiss. Jamie’s declaration of his love to Aurelia was sweet and humorous. On the other hand, the movie’s sole tragic plot involves Karen learning of her husband’s extramarital affair. Even after 19 years, we are still furious at Harry for buying Mia the necklace and for breaking Karen’s heart!

Despite the flaws, Love Actually is an imperfectly perfect movie. The movie is successful in its purpose: to make one feel warm, loved, and in love. And with a brilliant script and a stellar ensemble cast who have crafted their characters well, the movie continues to light up our hearts when it’s Christmas, and when it’s not.

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