movie film review | chris tookey

Love Actually

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  Love Actually Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
5.70 /10
Hugh Grant , Liam Neeson , Colin Firth
Full Cast >

Directed by: Richard Curtis
Written by: Richard Curtis

Released: 2003
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: GB
Colour: C
Length: 128

An incredibly large number of interconnecting love stories.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Love Actually may not be perfection, but it is two and a quarter hours of cinematic delight. In terms of ambition, range and entertainment value, Richard Curtis's first film as writer-director can stand alongside the great romantic comedies - and it's the most heart-warming Christmas movie since It's A Wonderful Life.

At least something good has come out of 9/11. Curtis establishes his Twin Towers-inspired theme in the opening moments, when he makes his alter ego, Hugh Grant, point out that, although fear and hatred sometimes appear to dominate our planet, the world is also full of love. When people knew they were about to die on September 11th, they didn't give vent to their hatred: they sent fond messages to their love ones. Love, as the song says, is all around.

As if this isn't enough to enrage melancholics the world over, Curtis enlarges on his theme by depicting the extraordinary variety, versatility and virulence of love. He does that by intertwining 9 short stories and 22 leading characters, with a skill I haven't seen bettered in any movie. The technique and self-discipline are staggering.

And the effect is magical. It's not often you can go to the cinema, look around at almost any point in the film, and see virtually the entire audience crying with joy.

This New Zealander turned quintessential Englishman first made his name in international cinema with Four Weddings and a Funeral, and his achievements since have included Notting Hill and Bridget Jones's Diary. So it is no surprise to find Hugh Grant in the leading role. Once again at the peak of his powers, Grant plays a new, highly charismatic Prime Minister. He enters Downing Street unencumbered by Blairite blandness, smarminess or marriage. "No nappies! No teenagers!" he promises the domestic staff. "No scary wife!"

He immediately, and inconveniently, falls for the Number 10 tea lady (Martine McCutcheon, showing us the Eliza Doolittle that most of us missed), but gets dispirited when he catches her being snogged by a visiting US President (Billy Bob Thornton, amusingly arrogant - and just a bit chilling - as a Clintonesque womaniser who takes British subservience too much for granted).

Love finally gets the better of the PM, however, and he decides to track her down on Christmas Eve - and he doesn't want a cup of tea.

December 24th is traditionally the moment when the year's Christmas Number One pop single is revealed, and one contender for this dubious accolade is clapped-out rock grandad Billy Mack (Bill Nighy), with an atrocious version of Love Is All Around, retitled Christmas Is All Around.

This narrative strand charts the love-hate relationship between Billy and his long-suffering manager (Gregor Fisher). Nighy builds upon the hilarious character he played in Still Crazy: someone who's been there, done that, but can't remember much of it. This must be one of the funniest performances ever, and - were everyone else not so tremendous - he would steal the movie. There was scarcely a moment when Nighy was on screen that I was not weeping with laughter (and I've seen this movie twice).

In a darker strand of the film, Laura Linney has wonderful warmth as a woman entering middle age but still too nervous to date the best-looking man in her office (Rodrigo Santoro). Besides, she has a family responsibility of her own, arising from a very different kind of love, and it keeps getting in the way of her "love life".

The other tragic-comic story brings out arguably the finest performance in the film. Emma Thompson makes a triumphant return to the big screen as a middle-aged Wandsworth mum increasingly aware that her husband (Alan Rickman) is succumbing to the less than subtle advances of his gorgeous, predatory secretary (Heike Makatsch).

Thompson is terrific, whether faking joy at her daughter getting the role of First Lobster in her school's Nativity play but unable to disguise her incredulity ("There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?") or dispensing sage advice to a male neighbour who's grieving for his wife ("Nobody's ever going to shag you if you cry all the time").

With comparatively little time on screen, she's as moving as she was in Howards End and Sense and Sensibility. If you don't have a tear in your eye when she gets her Christmas present, there's something wrong with you.

I could also rhapsodise about the father-son strand, with Liam Neeson showing an unexpectedly light, charming touch as a widower resigned to a single life, unless of course Claudia Schiffer should suddenly become available, and coping with the sudden stroppiness of his 11 year-old stepson (played by a talented young newcomer, Thomas Sangster, who is Hugh Grant's real-life cousin).

Unrequited love is also on show, through the best man at a wedding (Andrew Lincoln) who apparently resents the beautiful young wife (Keira Knightley) of his best friend (Chiwetel Ejofor). Another of the film's highlights is when he is made to show Knightley his highly embarrassing video of her wedding.

Lust is represented by the splendid Kris Marshall (the elder son in TV's My Family), playing sad sack Colin, disastrous at chatting up London totty but convinced that if only he can move to America and charm the girls with his English accent he will be transformed into a Love God. "Stateside," he assures his sceptical best friend, "I am Prince William without the weird family!"

We're also shown love flourishing under inauspicious circumstances - Joanna Page and Martin Freeman, trying to make personal contact while "standing in" for actors in a porno movie.

Finally, there's love across the language barrier, with Colin Firth back on form as a diffident thriller-writer who's crushed by his partner's infidelity but bounces back thanks to his Portuguese maid (Lucia Moniz).

Curtis weaves together these varied but complementary strands with sublime artistry. He knows just when to put in the big comic set-pieces, when to give us the romantic escapism we're hoping for, and when to bring us down to earth with a dash of realism.

Curtis is usually portrayed by his detractors as relentlessly optimistic, which he is if you haven't bothered to watch his movies with any care. There are spectacles here - especially those involving Linney and Thompson - which are far from rose-tinted.

Though a first-time director, Curtis hardly put a foot wrong. Even the dodgiest sequences - and I wasn't wholly convinced about the likelihood of the bar room scene involving Marshall, Firth's procession through the streets of Marseilles, or Neeson's cheerful disregard for airport security- all have a goofy charm.

Though Curtis will rightly scoop most of the plaudits, production designer Jim Clay and costume supervisor Joanna Johnston show the same fine eye for modern detail that they did in About a Boy. Nick Moore's editing has the energy that helped make The Full Monty a hit. Michael Coulter's cinematography is gorgeous, once again - as he did in Notting Hill - making London seem the world capital of romance. And the film is immaculately cast by one of the UK's most distinguished casting directors, Mary Selway.

This year has already thrown up one five-star British movie in Calendar Girls. Love Actually, by virtue of its scale and ambition, deserves to be rated even higher. Because of its unfashionable charm, humanity and generosity of spirit, a small but vociferous minority will condemn it out of hand. Most people, however, are going to love it, and - like me- will want to watch it over and over again. If I had a sixth star to award, this movie would get it. And I wouldn't mind a side bet on this film becoming the highest-grossing British picture of all time.

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