Put the Baileys on ice and Mariah on the stereo, ‘tis the season to watch Love Actually for the umpteenth time despite not actually liking it all that much.
What follows is the definitive ranking of the film’s canonical plotlines (no Rowan Atkinson, get over it) using the scientific and indisputable method of one person’s opinion. Let’s do it, let’s get the s**t kicked out of us by a list…
9. Nick from My Family went to America and all I got was this lousy storyline
Kris Marshall, in the wilderness years between My Family and those BT adverts, was cast by Richard Curtis as Colin, a name that, fittingly, already felt dated in 2003. There are the seeds of a good idea here as Colin is led to believe that his English accent alone will be enough to ensure any American woman will instantly fall for his charms (those charms including, in his own words, having a “big knob”). Colin books a flight to Wisconsin and ends up in a deserted dive bar. The funniest option would obviously have been the scheme’s abject failure but Curtis inexplicably makes some of the world’s most beautiful women (January Jones included) fawn all over our “hero”. It’s the film’s nadir and, arguably, Western civilisation’s.
8. Tim from 'The Office' and Stacey of 'Gavin &' fame fake sex
Mariah Carey’s 'All I Want for Christmas Is You' is one of the great works of art of the last quarter of a century. It is the most played holiday song of modern times and, though released in 1994, has the sound of an old standard that has been around for decades. The lyrics, the production and the melody combine in glorious union to produce a genuinely perfect pop song. The moment in Love Actually when Joanna Page says to Martin Freeman “All I want for Christmas is you” genuinely makes this viewer wish the song had never been written.
7. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Laura Linney’s Sarah is madly in love with the company’s creative director, Karl, a man so ridiculously good-looking he should come with a NSFW warning. For reasons known only to Curtis, at the exact moment it looks as though Sarah and Karl might get jiggy, Sarah’s brother calls from a mental care facility and things go full Haneke. A blue Christmas indeed for Karl, at least in terms of a couple of bits of his anatomy.
6. Liam Neeson has a particular set of (single parenting) skills
Easily the most inexplicable of the film’s storylines sees Neeson’s Daniel struggle to cope with the death of his wife. Why does Daniel’s friend say, “No one's ever going to shag you if you cry all the time” when his wife’s body is barely cold? Why does Claudia Schiffer exist within the Love Actually universe but play a character who isn’t Claudia Schiffer? Has Curtis ever heard human beings talk and, if so, how could he write and film the line, “Let’s do it, let’s get the shit kicked out of us by love?” As a side note, the original version of this plot saw Daniel’s son Sam learn acrobatics rather than drums in a bid to impress the girl of his dreams. The last sequence saw Sam evade security in Heathrow airport using a series of flips and jumps. This scene was actually shot, much like Sam would have been in real life if he’d tried that so soon after 9/11.
5. Rick from 'The Walking Dead' stalks a teenager
Andrew Lincoln, a man who is unable to deliver a line of dialogue without first breathing through his teeth, was 30 at the time of the film’s release while Keira Knightley was just 18. This plot contains Love Actually’s most iconic sequence, recently appropriated by politicians on all sides, but what would have happened if the husband had answered the door? Those cue cards would not have been easily hidden. And what would he have made of the frankly shoddy job Lincoln did filming the wedding day? No amount of saying, “Enough. Enough now,” would have got the weirdo out of that one.
4. The universal language of lust
Colin Firth’s Jamie discovers his brother is shtupping his wife and, because he’s a Richard Curtis character, relocates to his French cottage to work on a novel. In a homage and/or steal from Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Jamie and his housekeeper fall in love despite neither understanding a word the other is saying. This is true fancying and we know they’re meant to be as we’re invited to mock the housekeeper’s sister for being less conventionally attractive. Body shaming – the true meaning of Christmas.
3. The special relationship
Hugh Grant’s David is the prime minister we’ve always wanted. He sings, he dances, he makes speeches about David Beckham. Better yet, this Prime Minister David has never been caught in flagrante with a pig. The one thing David wants is Tiffany from EastEnders and, when his assistant, the lady from Teachers, inexplicably suggests she’s overweight, we are treated to the single best line read in the film: “Would we call her chubby?” Billy Bob Thornton plays a Clintonesque sleazeball who seems positively quaint in the era of Donald “grab them by the pussy” Trump but all’s well that ends well and they share a joyous snog at a school nativity play with the kind of budget that would undoubtedly raise the eyebrows of the secretary of state for education.
2. The end is Nighy
Bill Nighy plays Billy Mack, an ageing rocker rerecording The Troggs’ 'Love Is All Around' in a Christmas variation (itself a nod to Curtis’ earlier hit Four Weddings and a Funeral). Nighy’s innate charm and the fact that this plot at least acknowledges that love doesn’t have to simply be the romantic, heterosexual kind ensures this is a winner. The “Ant or Dec” line is a classic and the resolution, with Billy realising he loves his manager (Rab C. Nesbitt proving he’s not always unintelligible), is more moving than one might expect two old, straight men deciding to watch pornography together should be.
1. Emma Thompson is the GOAT, her nemesis is the WOAT
Alan Rickman’s Harry has a new secretary and in lieu of a personality, we're supposed to just find her sexy as hell (a place where she might possibly reside). You see, Mia is pure evil and we know this because she comes to the works Christmas do dressed as the literal devil. This is because Curtis does not believe in subtext and is a much bigger fan of text. The reason this is Love Actually’s greatest plot is purely, simply and only because of Emma Thompson. Stephen Fry was once asked what he made of his university friend winning an Oscar at 33 and replied by suggesting that anyone who knew Emma was just stunned she didn’t manage it before the age of 30. Thompson’s performance as Karen is the film’s greatest strength as surely no other actress could unwrap a Joni Mitchell CD with quite as much inherent pathos. Keep her immortal words in mind as you watch the film for the hundredth time over the Christmas period and struggle to understand how Curtis has managed to suck you in once more:
“You’ve also made a fool out of me, and you've made the life I lead foolish, too.”
This article was originally published in December 2019.