Richard Curtis’ ensemble romantic comedy Love Actually came out in 2004, a full 11 years ago, meaning it has now been out long enough to accrue the title ‘Christmas classic’. I indulge in multiple viewings of this film – which kickstarted a trend in the US where every holiday got itself an all-star ensemble (New Years Eve, Valentines Day etc) – and whilst it may have its critics, I am sure I am not alone in holding it as a festive favourite. The film has a total of nine storylines interweaved with one another, and I have taken it upon myself to rank them below…
Rufus (Rowan Atkinson) is a department store employee who firsts shows up wrapping a necklace for Harry (Alan Rickman), with his over-enthusiasm for providing a premium service raising laughs. He then shows up later at the airport, providing a distraction which allows Sam (Thomas Sangster) to slip through security. His supporting role has not been included due to the fact that he is a lone character who does not have a storyline of his own, though he is still extremely important to the overarching plot.
Atkinson is excellent in this small role, with the Mr Bean actor propelling the intertwined plot along in an amusing way. The DVD commentary of the film reveals that the original script had Rufus being a Christmas Angel – a role he still fulfils in the final product, though it is never explicitly stated. His slow pace at wrapping up Harry’s gift could be taken as a stalling tactic, attempting to stop Harry from causing his indiscretion. He also shoots Daniel (Liam Neeson) a knowing glance when Sam runs past, suggesting he knew what he was doing by distracting the guard. The idea of Rufus as an angel makes the already adorable film all the more sweeter (who knew that was possible?)
9 – COLIN & AMERICAN GIRLS
The story: Colin (Kris Marshall) is a goofy English waiter who is having no luck in his endless attempts to win over various women. He tells his friend Tony (Abdul Salis) that he it is British woman that he is undesirable to, and that if he went to America he would have more success. Colin then announces that he is in fact going to the US, and when he lands in Milwaukee he almost immediately becomes acquainted with three women – Stacey (Ivana Millecevic), Jeannie (January Jones) and Carol Ann (Elisha Cuthbert). The girls invite him to stay with them and their room-mate Harriet (Shannon Elizabeth). In the epilogue Colin is seen returning via Heathrow with Harriet, who has brought her sister (Denise Richards) for the stunned Tony.
Rank explained: This relatively small segment is undoubtedly comic relief to balance out the more serious moments in other stories. Colin is a one-dimensional character who is obsessed with sex, and this is without a doubt the weakest storyline in the film. The American women are presented only as sex objects with literally no character development, and the fact that Colin must go to America to get sex also creates negative connotations about both British and US women. Thankfully it is a very small part of the film, meaning it does not have too much of a derivative impact on the story as a whole. There are also some amusing cringe-worthy moments near the start, such as when Colin tries to chat up the caterer at Juliet and Peter’s wedding. Still, I would expect more of a Richard Curtis film than to revert to basic one dimensional stereotypes and crude sex jokes. Not cool.
8 – SARAH, KARL & MICHAEL
The story: Sarah (Laura Linney) is an American woman working at a design company (run by Harry) who has been in love with co-worker Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) for years. Harry encourages her to make a move, and the pair finally kiss after dancing together at the office christmas party. They go home together, but are disturbed by Sarah’s phone ringing. It is her brother, Michael (Michael Fitzgerald), who stays in a mental health facility. Sarah is unwilling to put Karl before her brother, and goes to visit Michael. Karl and Sarah are work late on Christmas Eve, and it becomes clear that they won’t get together. Sarah is last seen celebrating Christmas with Michael.
Rank explained: This is where the ranking begins to get tricky – the whole Colin segment is the only part of the film that I actively dislike. In my eyes, the rest is excellent, and Sarah’s story is no different. Laura Linney is perfectly cast as Sarah – she inhabits the role so much and makes it totally believable. Her awkwardness is relatable, and her quick-cleaning of her room is one of the films comedic highlights. The core of Sarah’s story is how sometimes familial love comes before romantic love, and the way that she puts aside what she wants to care for her brother. It is very emotional at points, because she is the type of character that fully deserves happiness. The only reason this story ranks so low is because it makes me a little sad.
7 – DANIEL, SAM & JOANNA
The story: Daniel (Liam Neeson) is mourning the loss of his wife Joanna, as well as trying to be step-father to her son Sam (Thomas Sangster). Sam reveals that he is in love with an American classmate, also named Joanna, and learns to play the drums so that he can accompany her at the school concert. Daniel then helps him chase her to the airport (Joanna is going back to America), and he meets another parent Carol (Claudia Schiffer) in the process. The epilogue shows Carol and Daniel waiting with Sam to meet Joanna, who has returned from America.
Rank explained: Another great storyline that I feel bad for ranking low, this shows Liam Neeson before his action-man resurgence that began with Taken in 2009. Watching his character struggle to deal with the death of his wife becomes all the more poignant with the knowledge that his real life wife Natasha Richardson passed away in 2009 after a skiiing accident. In spite of this happening years after the film came out, it makes viewing in this context more emotional than it already was. Whilst the story shows Sam pursuing Joanna, it is really about the bond between Daniel and Sam, and the way that good things can come out of the worst of times. The pair have become extremely close by the end of the film, having bonded over coming up with a plan to win over Joanna. Again, this only ranks lower due to the fact that unlike many other stories in the film, this one does not have a big standout scene (though the airport chase is pretty wonderful).
6 – HARRY, KAREN & MIA
The story: Harry (Alan Rickman) and Karen (Emma Thompson) are a married couple who have two children. Harry manages a design company whilst Karen stays home with the children. Mia (Hieke Makatsch) is Harry’s new secretary, who makes it increasingly obvious that she is interested in Harry. He buys her an expensive necklace, which Karen finds and excitedly thinks is for her. She is upset when she instead receives a Joni Mitchell CD from Harry, and she finds it hard to to hide her upset. She later confronts Harry and tells him that he has made a fool of her and her life. The family are later seen greeting Harry at the airport in the epilogue, where things still seem slightly tense between him and Karen.
Rank explained: This is one of perhaps the most debatable parts of the film, with many different possible interpretations of the Harry/Karen/Mia saga. Some will argue that Harry is a total idiot for jeopardising his happy marriage (which he obviously is) to the excellent Karen, whilst others may argue that their marriage is more akin to a friendship than a romantic relationship. Whatever your take on it is, it’s an interesting one to think about – was Harry having a mid-life crisis? Is Mia the worst? (a no-brainer) Did their marriage survive the indiscretion? One thing is for sure however, and that is that Emma Thompson breaking down in the bedroom as the Joni Mitchell songs is the biggest emotional gut punch in the film and probably one of the main reasons that it continues to be so well loved to this day. I rank it at number six purely because I really don’t like Mia – seriously, what was her deal?
5 – JULIET, PETER & MARK
The story: Juliet (Kiera Knightly) and Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) get married, with best man Mark (Andrew Lincoln) organising a surprise choir and filming much of the day. It is later revealed that Mark generally avoids or acts coldly towards Juliet, who tries to break the ice when she goes over to get his footage of the wedding. Mark is reluctant to show her the footage, and when she watches it she sees that it is all focused on her. Mark hastily leaves, saying he acts the way he does due to “self-preservation”. On Christmas Eve Mark shows up at Juliet and Mark’s flat and shows Juliet via cue cards that he is in love with her, but does not want or expect anything from her. She gives him a friendly kiss, and he states “enough, enough now” to himself. The trio are then shown in the epilogue and things appear less awkward between Mark and Juliet.
Rank explained: Pre-Walking Dead Andrew Lincoln was all lovelorn and moody in Love Actually, revealing himself to be in love with his best friends new wife. Classy. Yet somehow, the film manages to make it all seem quite charming. I’ve never been a huge Kiera Knightly fan, but again I never took this story to really be about the love Mark has for Juliet, or even the love Juliet and Peter have for each other. I always took it as being about the love Mark has for Peter – even though he is ‘hopelessly’ in love with Juliet, Mark’s bond with Peter is so strong that he would never even consider betraying him. This is significant because we see betrayal in other parts of the film – Jamie’s brother and girlfriend have an affair for instance. It’s the second best bromance in the film (more on that later), and it is absolutely adorable.
4 – JAMIE & AURÉLIA
The story: Jamie (Colin Firth) returns from Juliet and Peter’s wedding to discover that his girlfriend (Sienna Guillory) has been cheating on him with his brother. He departs to a French cottage to write and he meets housekeeper Aurélia, who is Portuguese and doesn’t speak any English. In spite of the language barrier, there is a spark between the pair and they begin to fall in love. Both are upset when it comes time for them to go back to their respective countries. Jamie then learns Portuguese and goes to find Aurélia on Christmas Eve, eventually proposing to her in front of the town. She says yes, revealing that she had been learning English. The epilogue shows them meeting Juliet, Peter and Mark at the airport.
Rank explained: Colin Firth is at his loveable best here. Whilst the story is itself a little far fetched, it is perfectly suited to a festive romantic comedy (they’re rarely lauded for their realism). Firth is hilariously British, with a particular highlight coming towards the end when he gives up a cab to a fellow traveller before jumping up and down in frustration. In spite of the less than realistic story Firth and Guillory pull it off due to having believable and tentative chemistry. This is one of the story lines that critics of the film will make a beeline towards, but I believe that it one that is at the heart of the magic.
3 – DAVID & NATALIE
The story: David (Hugh Grant) is the newly elected Prime Minister and when he moves into 10 Downing Street he meets one of his household staff, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). There is an instant spark between them, but David chastises himself for liking her. The President of the US (Billy Bob Thornton) visits and David is led to believe that something untoward happened between the President and Natalie, leading him to make a defiant speech and also get Natalie moved from her position within the house. He later gets a christmas card from Natalie where she admits that it is him that she wanted all along, and he goes on a door to door search from her, eventually finding her and taking her to her brothers nativity play. The pair are then caught kissing backstage, and the epilogue shows Natalie greeting David at the airport as the press look on.
Rank explained: Like Firth, Hugh Grant is at his probably typecast best here as the new British Prime Minister (I have already conceded that this film isn’t one that is thinking about realism, alright?) . Grant’s speech where he stands up to the lecherous US President is perfectly executed, and one of the best moments in the film. The story, like all the best ones on this list, is actually a very simple one, making it accessible to everyone in spite of being about the Prime Minster. McCutcheon, who has flown somewhat of the radar in recent years, is also on excellent form as the slightly goofy Natalie, but Grant gets all the best scenes without a doubt – the dancing through 10 Downing Street is another highlight.
2 – JOHN & JUDY
The story: John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) are professional body doubles who are filming sex scenes for a film where Tony is the production assistant. They are comfortable with the work but are otherwise very shy talking to each other, and John eventually asks her on a date very tentatively. They go on a date and Judy tells John “all I want for Christmas is you!” after kissing him. They are then shown in the epilogue having gotten married.
Rank explained: This is one of the smaller stories in the film but it makes the number two spot due to being SO CUTE. Joanna Page and Martin Freeman are an adorable match made in heaven, and they’re tentative beginning of a relationship in less than usual circumstances sums up the entire message of the film in a smart little subplot. Pretty much the best part of the film, other than the pair who took the number one spot…
1 – BILLY MACK & JOE
The story: Ageing rocker Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is trying to stage a comeback with the help of his manager Joe (Gregor Fisher). He has released a festive cover of The Troggs’ Love is All Around entitled Christmas is All Around. After a string of controversial media appearances where Billy Mack is increasingly inappropriate, he becomes the surprise Christmas Number One and goes to celebrate with a party at Elton John’s house. He then leaves the party to spend time with Joe, who he admits is the (platonic) “love of my life”.
Rank explained: Was it going to be any other? Taking the crown for one of the best bromances ever is Billy Mack and Joe. It feels like Bill Nighy was born to play this highly inappropriate, past his sell by date rocker, and Gregor Fisher plays the straight man fantastically. The comedic heart of the film, the pairs high jinks throughout make for some of the biggest laugh out loud moments, and the scene where Billy admits that Joe is the “fucking love of my life” never fails to make me a little misty eyed (even though it contains the hilarious line: “There’s been a terrible mistake chubs” in the SAME SENTENCE). Behind all the laughs is the message that love between friends is just as important as any other kind, and it takes the number one spot because it embodies everything the whole film is about, and manages to do so in a hilarious fashion.