I sat down to watch Love Actually last night, one of my favourite Christmas movies – y’know, the one where Hugh Grant plays the bumbly prime minister, Colin Firth plays some bumbly writer, Keira Knightley smiles a lot and a whole host of other famous British actors don’t deviate from their usual type-castings. All wholesome, British fun. At least that’s what I used to think but since then I’ve read Judith Butler and generally become more aware of the gross inequality in this country and the many problems of patriarchy. So, this year, I saw Love Actually a little differently and came to realise that it’s basically about rich, white men getting what they want. Spoilers ensue.
For starters, three of the central relationships are about middle-aged men with power (i.e. with important jobs – Alan Rickman (aka Snape) plays the CEO of a charity, Hugh Grant the PM and Colin Firth a wealthy writer) who attract much younger, women of ‘lower status’ – Snape’s secretary, the PM’s Cockney, ‘salt-of-the-earth’ type maid (played by Martine McCutcheon) and Firth’s Portuguese cleaner. The women go out of their way to attract the men whilst the guys just bumble around getting what they want without even trying. As for woman of power in the film…well, there aren’t m/any. Sure, there are plenty of female secretaries, there’s a put-upon wife (played magnificently by Emma Thompson), there’s a dead wife, there’s a nasty, younger wife who cheats on her husband (boo, we’re not supposed to like her), and a blushing bride (Knightley) but there aren’t many inspiring roles for women in this film. Add to that the often abysmal script that many brilliant female actors are forced to speak – Snape’s secretary tempts him to cheat on his wife with her saying cringe-worthy things about “dark corners” as she spreads her legs. She’s also forced to wear devil horns to the office party as women are literally demonised in this film. At least Emma Thompson gets to speak up for herself at the end after a bit of Oscar-worthy acting to the tunes of Joni Mitchell (see below) but I still feel Snape’s apology isn’t sincere enough.
Then there are the people of colour in the film, or lack of them. We’ve got a black DJ (who’s a joke), a not particularly nice black secretary (who is also forced to serve Grant’s PM), a black best friend (who gets the odd token line and manages to defy the laws of physics by being in two places at once) and a black husband (who plays second fiddle to Keira Knightley and that random, white guy from Teachers who is secretly in love with her, cue that awful scene in which it takes Knightley’s character far too long to figure out the Teachers guy is some weirdo who fantasises about her a little too much). But is any substantial role given to a person of colour…no. As for trans and queer characters – well, Emma Thompson makes a joke about a Barbie doll that looks like a transvestite and a few people are asked if they’re gay but then quickly and vehemently deny it. So zero points on the queer front.
And then there’s Colin Frissell – a young, bumbly white guy who never has much luck with the ladies. Perhaps because he calls women he doesn’t know beautiful and is generally inappropriate in the way he talks with women. We’re supposed to like him and his goofy antics but really his attitudes and behaviour are dire. But then he flies off to America and ends up with not one but three (maybe even four) busty American women who, thanks to the stellar script, are complete idiots. So, if at first you don’t succeed lads, just keep going until women relent. Oh, and there’s that plot line about Bilbo Baggins doing nude scenes with Tracey of Gavin & Tracey fame and naturally we get to see her breasts a lot but do we get to see his penis as a bit of nudity parity…nope. I’ve always wondered what a hobbit penis would look like.
As for the other plot lines, there’s one about a father (Liam Neeson) and son which would have been better if Neeson got to shoot some people; a nice enough bromance between an aging, male rock star and his male manager; and quite a sad office romance between an American woman and some French male model. And after all that what’s the moral of this heartwarming Yuletide story – if you want to live in London and fall in love you basically have to be rich, white and male. Happy Christmas.
My favourite scene…Emma Thompson capturing the MAMMOTH emotional repression and inability to communicate of the upper middle classes perfectly. She thought he was going to get her a necklace but he gave that to the nasty, devil secretary instead. Just watch as she tries to hold back those tears and maintain a stiff upper lip in front of the kids!