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Love Actually
Tchaikovsky Cultural Center 
By Shaun Walker
Richard Curtis towers over the last two decades of British comedy, with scriptwriting credits ranging from the BBC cult series Blackadder to worldwide hits such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. His first offering from the director’s chair is Love Actually, and he brings with him an unprecedented line-up that includes almost all the heavyweights of British film: Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant, along with a host of rising British stars and a bevy of cameos – from Claudia Schiffer to Michael Parkinson.

The plot revolves around a seemingly interminable number of bite-size love stories in the run-up to Christmas, with a multiple denouement at that trusty stalwart of the romcom genre – the airport. The characters, ostensibly a sweeping cross-section of British society, actually centre almost entirely upon an Islington upper-middle class set, with Martine McCutcheon thrown in as token commoner and Chiwetel Ejiofor as token ethnic minority. Hugh Grant’s repertoire – which already stretched from stammering posh-but-loveable English bookseller to stammering posh-but-loveable English doctor – is widened to take in the new and challenging role of stammering posh-but-loveable English prime minister.

The sheer quantity of storylines means that none of them are ever adequately developed. Not all of the stories end ‘happily’, but those that do not are never properly explored. ‘My wasted heart will love you forever’ says Andrew Lincoln to his best friend’s wife – in roughly his third minute on screen – before smiling and walking down the street to feel-good music because she gave him a peck on the lips. We have no idea why he loves her, or of the nature of his relationship with said best friend – but we do know that the girl concerned is rather tasty. Equally mysteriously, Colin Firth makes perhaps the quickest, most vacuous marriage proposal this side of, to a Portuguese girl with whom he cannot even converse.

Thus despite the title, there is very little in this film that smacks of love at all. Of course, physical attraction is going to be a major part of love, but one might expect dialogue to be given at least a supporting role – Thompson and Rickman are the only couple actually to have a proper conversation! The closest the film comes to any real emotions is Thompson’s touching performance as a betrayed wife, though one can only be so touching in seven minutes of screen time. For everyone else, love is purely and fully a visual, sexual matter, exemplified by Curtis playing the old ‘accidental proposal to the wrong sister’ trick. (What do those people who are cast as ‘amusingly fat ugly character’ feel like?) The sadder side of love is touched upon but never explored, and nor for that matter is the happier side, in any sense other than the sexual.

I ought perhaps to make an admission. Love Actually did in fact have me laughing for most of its duration, especially during Bill Nighy’s hilarious portrayal of an ageing rocker cynically cashing in with a tacky Christmas tune. Curtis still knows how to push all the right buttons with his audiences. But Nighy’s storyline might well be applied to the whole film – a funny but ultimately vacuous and meretricious exercise aimed at the Christmas Box Office, that does little justice either to Curtis’ considerable writing ability, or to the enormous wealth of acting talent involved.

Love Actually takes place in a London full of middle-class suburbs and big red buses; a London where someone sprinting through the security gates at Heathrow is given gentle pursuit by a couple of friendly bobbies rather than shot through the head by anti-terrorism agents; a London as unrecognisable as the love stories which take place within it.

See the film – it will make you laugh. But if this really is love, actually, then let's all go to Night Flight and get some…

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