TV & Movies

11 Things I Noticed Watching Love Actually In 2021

The soundtrack is probably the best thing about the entire film, tbh.

Originally Published: 
Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon in 'Love Actually'
Peter Mountain/Universal/Dna/Working Title/Kobal/Shutterstock

It’s the most wonderful time of year – otherwise known as the season dedicated to sticking on Love Actually while everyone’s in a post-Christmas dinner slump, and then swiftly remembering that it’s not as family-friendly as you remember it being.

Kicking off at an airport, complete with a deliciously mushy monologue about the nature of love itself, Love Actually remains a festive classic eighteen years (!) after its release. “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport,” says Hugh Grant in the opening moments, playing an unbelievably likeable iteration of the British Prime Minister. “General opinions starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere.”

Thanks to the gruelling nature of the last couple of years, the sight of hugging families and reunited couples feels more emosh than ever. Especially as Omicron threatens our own festive get-togethers. Featuring a star-filled cast of ensemble actors – including Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, and Keira Knightley – the feel-good rom-com explores the many delights of lurrrrve in all of its forms, with added snow. And what could be more romantic than snow?!

Admittedly, it doesn’t always get it right. From the bamboozling romance that unfolds between two film stand-ins who are filming a sex scene, to its jovial “punchlines” about everything from workplace harassment to bodyshaming, much about this festive classic is actually deeply uncomfortable. Very much a product of its time, as many have argued. But at times, rewatching Richard Curtis’ festive flick is also nostalgic and heartwarming. Here are some of the main things I noticed when rewatching the Christmas classic.

Hugh Grant In 'Love Actually'

The Exquisite ‘00 Playlist May Just Be The Best Thing About It

For some reason the early ‘00 gifted us with some brilliantly half-arsed pop: and from the dramatic yet lackadaisical music of Dido to Norah Jones’ sway-worthy crowd pleasers, they’re all present and correct here. Chuck in a bit of Sugababes, the criminally under-rated Scottish pop-rock band Texas and ‘Jump (For My Love)’ by The Pointer Sisters for good measure, and we’re onto a winner. Honestly, Love Actually’s soundtrack is probably the best thing about the entire film.

It’s A Rose-Tinted Souvenir Of Late-90s Britain

The most astonishing thing about Love Actually is that everybody treats the Prime Minister of the UK with Union Jack-wafting adoration and respect. Cannot relate. Whenever Hugh Grant rocks up to Downing Street in the film, legions of fans line the entrance gates and scream at his governmental car as if it contains Harry Styles. Considering the current state of affairs, it’s incredibly disconcerting stuff. A lot of the time, his depiction of the PM feels a bit like a throwback to the popularity of late-nineties Tony Blair, before his involvement in the Iraq invasion and the War on Terror led to his downfall from office.

A Lot Has Changed Since 2003

Though this film is very clearly set in a post-9/11 world – the opening monologue takes great pains to spell this out beyond any reasonable doubt – the scenes shot at Heathrow airport portray a frighteningly relaxed approach to national security which feels alien to watch eighteen years on. As I was clutching my invisible pearls and gasping at the lack of lotions being hastily emptied into 250ml bottles, I realised how much less carefree certain parts of life have become. At one point, the PM boards a commercial flight from New York with absolutely no personal security detail, which feels like some poor decision-making. When Sam (an obsessive young child hellbent on winning the heart of his American classmate) decides to declare his love for Joanna at the boarding gate, he manages to reach the plane doors with virtually zero serious consequences. It’s just a shame director Richard Curtis deleted an original version of the scene which featured a very obvious stunt double backflipping and high-barring across the airport.

Julia Davis Appears For Two Minutes & Is Still Somehow The Best Character

Queen of dark humour, Julia Davis, the writer and star of Nighty Night might only appear on screen for approximately two minutes, as caterer Nancy, but she somehow succeeds in being the film’s greatest character when she treats Collin with the unfiltered contempt he actually deserves.


Otherwise, It’s Quite Difficult To Remember Character’s Names

Julia Davis also plays the only character whose name I remember, thanks to her breath-takingly deadpan delivery of: “I’m Nancy”. Otherwise, I honestly couldn’t tell you a single name without looking it up first. While watching the film, I had to keep continually referring to the Wikipedia page, and yet I’m still surprised to learn that the prime minister is called David. Rowan Aitkenson’s character – the de facto guardian angel of the film in that his slow gift-wrapping rumbles a cheating husband – shall forever be known as Mr Bean, but apparently he’s supposed to be called Rufus in the film. News to me!

Everyone Is Disturbingly Horny For The Office

A cesspit of common colds and toilet cubicle naps (accompanied by the smell of steamed broccoli wafting from the communal microwave) the reality of working in an office is about as sexy as being playfully slapped across the face with a piece of damp lettuce. And yet in Love Actually nearly every character seems frantically horny for it. While working as Harry (played by Alan Rickman)’s personal assistant at a design agency, Mia spends much of the working day shopping for lace negligees and spreading her legs from troubling camera angles with a view to shagging her boss – and together, they succeed in making pure, lovely Emma Thompson sob over their revolting entanglement. When Snape isn’t busy trying to engineer an extra-marital affair, he occupies himself by summoning his employee Sarah into his office where he essentially orders her to seduce her broodingly hunky colleague Karl, with such sternness you suspect it’s a threat. And in what would surely be the perfect recipe for a lawsuit, the Prime Minister fires Martine McCutcheon for being too hot before ending the UK’s “special relationship” with the U.S. on a whim because he’s jealous she flirted with the president.

Is It Flirting, Though?

One detail Love Actually breezily glosses over is Natalie’s encounter with the American president. Minutes into his Downing Street visit, she’s referred to as a “​​a pretty little son of a bitch,” and shortly afterwards, the president sexually harasses her. Natalie somehow ends up being the one who has to apologise anyway, and there’s no room in the script for unpacking her feelings around being manipulated by one of the most powerful men in the world. Instead, we just get this slightly strange explanation, which references flammables for absolutely no reason: “he slinked towards me and there was a fire and he's the President of the United States.”

Universal Pictures

Storylines Revolve Around Creepy Men & Silent, Smiling Women

Virtually every male lead is a lecherous and pestering slimeball who ends up being rewarded for his creepy antics by a plethora of agreeable women who largely serve as props. When Collin huffily departs for the U.S. because he reckons British women are frigid, he almost immediately ends up having an orgy with a group of Milwaukee women who inexplicably share a bed to keep warm. He even ends up bringing one of them home for his best friend like a souvenir fridge magnet. After stalking Juliet at her own wedding, best man Mark turns up at her door with a series of increasingly concerning signs declaring his love, and ends up getting a peck on the lips for his troubles. Continuing this theme, the Prime Minister also knocks on a load of random people’s doors to try and hunt down Natalie after he’s redeployed her for being too distracting. And though the attraction between Jamie and his Portuguese housekeeper Aurélia seems fairly genuine in comparison (despite the fact they don’t speak the same language, at least it’s two-sided) is it really necessary to have her strip down to her underwear in slow motion after accidentally chucking his shitty book drafts into a lake?

It’s Very Straight, Actually

Aside from the slightly weird bromance that unfolds between aged rocker Billy Mack and his long-suffering manager Joe, Love Actually is completely dominated by hetereosexuality, despite being an ensemble film. Alongside rampant fatphobia and body shaming at every turn it’s time to tick ‘transphobic joke’ off the bingo sheet just seven minutes into the film. Its characters also seem to live in a state of permanent terror when it comes to any suggestion of homosexuality – and when they’re not mocking queer people they’re busy coming up with stupid, nonsensical metaphors to describe any man who is even mildly in touch with his feelings. “Gay as a maypole”, “gay as a picnic basket” – what are you all on about?!

Universal Pictures/BBC Radio 1/YouTube

Richard Curtis Really Knows How To Pull On Those Heartstrings

There are certainly a few worse films out there than Love Actually, and I occasionally found it moving in places. The funeral for Daniel’s late wife gave me a Tracey Beaker-esque hay fever attack, and the scene in which Karen finds out Snape is cheating on her is genuinely quite gut wrenching. “You've also made a fool out of me, and you've made the life I lead foolish,” she tells him after being gifted a Joni Mitchell album (which he presumably picked up for £4.99 at HMV) instead of the heart-shaped necklace he bought for Mia.

And It’s Spawned Some Excellent Parodies

One of the best things about objectively terrible films: at least they’re ripe for taking the piss out of. At several points during Love Actually I couldn’t stop thinking about the various parodies by Luke Millington-Drake, who does a better impression of Keira Knightley than Keira Knightley herself. “That’s lovely, well done you!” he simpers, chin jutted, as he recreates the infamous scene where her character Juliet watches a frankly unhinged video that spends majority of the time zoomed in on her teeth. “I look quite pretty!” Cast him in the sequel!

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