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Is it Love, Actually?

BETHANY TAYLOR ranks the nine storylines from ‘meh’ to ‘yeh!’ in this Christmas movie classic

With the holidays just around the corner, the markets already in full-swing, and Ms Carey and Mr Bublé reclaiming their rightful places on every radio station, it seems only natural to talk about Christmas films. And what is a more quintessential festive film than the cult classic Love Actually? Starring some of Britain’s biggest actors and beginning with my favourite monologue from any film ever, it’s impossible to not love this film.

But anyone who’s seen it before knows that the plot follows numerous, loosely-related stories; ranging from the classic blossoming Yuletide romance, to touching testaments and familial ties, as well as some heart-breaking tales – you know, just to balance out the merriment. So, I decided to rank the plotlines based solely on my opinion, starting from the very worst to the best this masterpiece has to offer.

Deluded American Dream – Colin: 2/10

This story follows Colin Frissell (Kris Marshall) as he abandons the United Kingdom in favour of the United States, a move prompted by his poor luck in love. Well, maybe “love” is the wrong word to use, considering his only motivation throughout the film seems to be (for lack of a better phrase) looking to get laid.

Every year I watch this film, and every year I get tempted to skip his scenes when they come on. I can appreciate that the intention behind Colin’s tale of woe may be to provide a sort of comedic relief to the overwhelmingly tragic and cheesy romance. However, he blames the women of the UK for not wanting to sleep with him, despite his attempts at “flirting” being stupid at best, and downright arrogant at worst (like when he insults a wedding chef’s cooking to her face).

As a result, I find it extremely hard to sympathise with him, and his happy ending seems a little like it’s feeding into an incel delusion. To his utmost delight, he does (somehow) end up finding beautiful American women willing to sleep with him because of his “cute British accent”, and thankfully that’s the last we see of him.

‘Romeo’ a Little Off the Mark…. Juliet & Mark: 4/10

Watching the beautiful Keira Knightley (Juliet) and The Walking Dead’s strapping male lead Andrew Lincoln (Mark) fall in love, in theory, doesn’t sound too bad. But the execution in this film is just so… odd. We are introduced to the pair at Juliet’s wedding, where she is marrying Mark’s best friend, Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Mark surprises the couple with a brass band hiding in the audience who play ‘All You Need Is Love’ as the couple exit the church.

While this might sound nice, it is later unveiled that Mark is actually in love with Juliet, and that he does this as a way to woo his best friend’s wife. But, despite this supposed love, Mark treats Juliet coldly, to the point where Peter has to warn him to be nice to her, and Juliet herself remarks that he “[doesn’t] talk to [her]” or make her feel liked in any way. If that wasn’t strange enough, his recording of the wedding is essentially just a close-up of Juliet’s face, which the audience is meant to perceive, somehow, as being romantic.

Mark does try to explain his rude behaviour to Juliet when she discovers his feelings for her, writing off his cruelty as a “self-preservation thing”. Still, a fully grown man acting like a child pulling his crush’s pigtails in the playground is more than a little off-putting.

The kiss the two ultimately share after Mark’s cue-card confession leaves me wondering why Peter (who is just upstairs as all of this is happening) doesn’t just find some better friends – and maybe a new wife, while he’s at it.

Not Your Typical ‘Office’ Romance – John & Judy: 6/10

Fresh-faced Martin Freeman plays John, a body double starring in an adult film who ends up falling in love with the woman he is acting opposite. Judy (Joanna Page) is a sweet girl who strikes up conversation as they do their job, and despite the nature of their work, this plotline is actually one of the more oddly wholesome of the bunch.

The pair chat amiably during their shoot, and John finally works up the courage to ask her out for a Christmas drink (during a rather interesting scene). Although it’s one of the storylines with least amount of screen time, this is still a cute, somewhat-predictable tale of romance.

Points have been deducted, however, for Judy’s cringe-worthy “all I want for Christmas is you” line after the pair share their first kiss. Also, for making me see my beloved John Watson in an entirely new light, and in situations I will unfortunately never be able to fully scrub from my brain. Seriously, where is the eye bleach when you need it?

The True Meaning of Christmas – Sarah & Karl: 6/10

American actress Laura Linney portrays Sarah, an introverted office worker who is hopelessly in love with her handsome co-worker, Karl (Rodrigo Santoro). She goes from pitifully longing for Karl, getting ready with a full-face of makeup just to say “night” to him, eventually graduating from the friendzone and taking him home after their work Christmas party.

However, interrupted by a phone call from her mentally unwell brother, Sarah selflessly sacrifices her chance at true love to visit him in the hospital. Karl, upset but understanding, leaves, and the couple are later seen resuming their old, stagnant dance of saying goodnight to each other, and nothing more.

While not my favourite plotline, this story has always touched me. I find all of the characters to be likeable, and it has that perfect amount of tragic realism. Sarah’s endless patience for her brother, even when he lashes out due to his delusions, is extremely powerful. One of my favourite scenes is when she visits the hospital on Christmas Eve and the pair don matching Santa hats, sharing a meaningful hug. In its own way, I think this plotline summarises what Christmas means to a lot of people: spending time with those you love, setting differences and selfishness aside.

We’re in Some Severe-Us Trouble! – Harry & Karen: 7/10

If there was a visual representation of tearing your soul out and splatting it onto the pavement, it would undoubtedly be watching Alan Rickman (Harry) cheat on Emma Thompson (Karen) and break her heart. This couple’s marriage shatters when Harry has an affair with his secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch), flirting with her and buying her a golden heart-shaped locket for Christmas.

Upon discovering her husband’s unfaithfulness on Christmas Eve, Karen puts on her Joni Mitchell CD and weeps, and I challenge anybody to watch this film and not cry alongside her. She confronts Harry, but at the end of the film the pair are seen reuniting at Heathrow Airport, exchanging icy words and a dutiful kiss on the cheek, having not divorced after all.

Script-writer Emma Freud summed this tragedy up best when she said that, though the couple ultimately stays together, “home isn’t as happy as it once was”. This anomaly of a sad ending to a Christmas film leaves the audience wondering why the couple didn’t just split up and save themselves (and their children) the prolonged heartbreak.

Step into Christmas – Billy & Joe: 7/10

In another unique take on the Christmas romcom genre, Bill Nighy stars as Billy Mack, a middle-aged pop star who is trying to achieve a Christmas Number One with his festive cover of ‘Love Is All Around’ by Wet Wet Wet. His chaotic storyline follows him as he promotes the song on radio stations and TV shows, and features baby-faced actors Ant and Dec.

Nighy’s brilliant line delivery is just part of the reason why I love this story. Mack has a bawdy sense of humour which is demonstrated at numerous points, most clearly when he vows to perform naked on live TV if his song becomes a Christmas Number One – a promise which he does indeed follow through with at the climax of the film.

Alongside this, however, is the exploration of his relationship with his “fat manager” Joe (Gregor Fisher), with whom he mocks and jokingly spars. However, after winning his award and being invited to Elton John’s party, in a touching turn of events Mack chooses to spend Christmas with Joe because he is the “love of [his] life”. Portraying a comedic, sometimes awkward, but overall sweet older male friendship, this plotline has got to be one of my favourites in the film.

Falling in Love in a Foreign Language – Jamie & Aurelia: 7/10

I love Colin Firth just as much as the next person, so it’s no surprise that Jamie’s story is so high up on my list. Beginning with the poor man getting cheated on by his girlfriend with his own brother, Jamie decides to go to France and use the time leading up to Christmas to distract himself and write some of his novel.

During his stay, however, he falls in love with his cleaner Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), despite their language barrier. It is awkward at first, but the pair loosen up during a scene when they both end up jumping into a pond; Aurelia to save Jamie’s escaped novel pages, and Jamie to rescue Aurelia from drowning whilst saving his work. After this, their love blossoms.

I must admit, at points it feels like some of their scenes must have been removed due to how fast their relationship progresses from meeting, falling in love, and then marriage. For instance, what if Aurelia wasn’t single? There was no way Jamie could have asked, given that they hadn’t had a full conversation right up until the proposal scene. But who can blame her; if Mark Darcy himself asked me, in broken Portuguese, to marry him, I’d have no problem dropping whoever I was dating right there on the spot, too.

I mean, it’s Colin Firth, after all… I’m sure they’ll understand.

Trials and Triumphs of (Step)Fatherhood – Daniel & Sam: 9/10

Love Actually sees Liam Neeson as Daniel, a recent widower taking on the role of step-dad, which proves more challenging than he expected. Played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster of The Maze Runner fame, his step-son Sam struggles not only with the passing of his mother, but also with something else - the “total agony of being in love”.

This heart-warming story follows the pair as they devise a plan to get Sam noticed by his crush. This begins with a debrief of the romance, which struck me with its inclusivity as Daniel asks what “she… he” feels about Sam – a progressive script inclusion by 2003 standards. Their bond strengthens as they re-enact Titanic together, and Daniel encourages Sam to learn drums to woo his crush (and bravely suffers the eardrum-shattering consequences).

Their story ends with Sam rushing through an airport, in classic romcom fashion, to catch the love of his life before she boards the plane to America. Sam ultimately receives a kiss on the cheek, and Daniel ends up bumping into Carol (Claudia Schiffer), finding his own second chance at love, too.

As a sucker for found family and reluctant father figure tropes, this has been and always will be one of my favourite stories. With so many emotional scenes and quotes displaying familial and platonic love so wonderfully, how could you not love this plotline?

All Rise for Our Prime Minister, Hugh Grant – David & Natalie: 9/10

The ever-charming Hugh Grant plays David, a newly elected prime minister who strikes up a romance with his employee, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). If you love a good ‘he falls in love first’ plot, then you’ll definitely enjoy their story as much as I do.

In an unexpected turn of events, it’s David who gets nervous around Natalie, and in an attempt to impress her he offers to have her cruel ex-boyfriend murdered (charming!).

When Natalie is almost assaulted by the president of the United States, David takes a public stand against him. Though not smart or realistic in the slightest, it’s hard to deny such a powerful response would have anybody swooning, like Natalie does.

I mean, when you’ve got Hugh Grant staring into your eyes meaningfully across a crowded conference room and talking about “all those things that really matter to [him]”, it’d be impossible to resist falling in love.

As an avid Bridget Jones fan and proud Daniel Cleaver hater, it’s always nice to see Grant in a redeeming role, particularly one which is so well-tailored to the female gaze. Watching David dance stupidly around 10, Downing Street and sing a carol to make pleading children happy is simply perfection, so of course this story just had to go on the top of my list.

Feel free to discuss and share your own opinions of the Love Actually stories in the comments. And, if you haven’t seen the film yet, I highly recommend you check it out sometime this month; it’s currently available to watch on Amazon Prime. I promise you won’t regret it!

Written by Bethany Taylor

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Paul Flanagan
Paul Flanagan
Dec 14, 2022

Over the years, I have excruciatingly borne the ridicule of colleagues and friends at various Christmas events due to my insistence on defending the valour of this film! 😆 This was a fun read, and I do so agree with you that the underlying message of the story/stories that Christmas is a time to celebrate love in all its forms is a great one. Some of the forms in the film are pretty ridiculous, and there's an uncomfortable theme of older sleazy men being older sleazy men throughout, and Richard Curtis himself has pointed out that it's not a particularly good film in terms of cultural diversity and representation. Despite these obvious flaws, I still agree with almost all your…


Love this! Great film!


Great article Bethany! I've managed to avoid seeing Love Actually at every opportunity, but I might just have to bite the bullet and go for it this Xmas - thanks to your review!

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