Dir: Richard Curtis. UK. 2003. 129 mins
Like a latter-day Frank Capra, Richard Curtis believes in the innate decency of the ordinary individual. His films salute the power of love and the possibility of harmony in a world riven with division. His vision may not be dark or cutting-edge but it is comforting, witty and irresistibly heart-warming for a vast middlebrow audience who have embraced Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill and his adaptation of Bridget Jones's Diary.
That very same audience will happily line up for his Yuletide ensemble Love Actually, a canny mixture of humour, heartache and humanity that delivers a little something for everyone. The film's appeal runs the gamut from courting couples to family outings and incurable romantics, promising a monster crowd-pleaser, especially during the lucrative, feel-good Festive season.
Directing his own feature material for the first time, Curtis brings tears to the eyes in the opening moments as he focuses on an airport arrivals lounge to underline the sense of joy and companionship that exists in the world. He instantly establishes his film as a heartfelt riposte to the cynics and gloom-merchants.
Covering the five-week period leading up to Christmas in London, the film joins together ten stories of first love, impossible love, eternal love and love under threat. A connecting thread of sorts is provided by burnt out pop idol Billy Mack (Nighy) on the comeback trail with his shameless seasonal version of Love Is All Around. A number of stories also relate to newly elected British Prime Minister Hugh Grant and his powerful attraction to tealady Natalie (McCutcheon). The Prime Minister's sister Karen (Thompson) is all too aware that husband Harry (Rickman) is tempted to stray. She also provides support for recently widowed friend Daniel (Neeson) whose 11 year-old stepson is deeply in love for the first time.
Woven together with the easy wit, charm and insouciance one has come to expect from Curtis, Love Actually is inevitably sketchy and even a little glib. There are times when the careful balance of stories, sentimentality and socially-inclusive characterisation seems calculating. The film even threatens to become a compendium of greatest hits from previous Curtis films with a frisson of naughtiness from the use of swear words, a significant disabled character, Kris Marshall's comical love God echoing Rhys Ifans scene-stealer in Notting Hill etc
Most audiences will be all to happy to accept the film's flaws because it casts such a warm glow, offers moments of genuine tenderness and uproarious comedy and boasts an unbeatable, all-star cast that includes a delicious cameo from Billy Bob Thornton as a Clintonesque American President. Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor and a dashing Andrew Lincoln are among the younger performers who broaden the film's appeal. Hugh Grant raises the roof with his antics as the groovy, lovelorn Prime Minister and Bill Nighy is sheer delight as a roguish survivor of the Swinging Sixties who displays all the subversive candour and indiscretion one could want.
A polished, fluid production with impeccable technical credits and a winning soundtrack, Love Actually is the very definition of entertainment and is guaranteed to bring joy to the world this Christmas.
Production cos: Working Title, Universal
US dist: Universal
Int'l dist: UIP (most terrs)
Executive producer/screenplay: Richard Curtis
Producers: Duncan Kenworthy, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
Cinematography: Michael Coulter
Prod des: Jim Clay
Editor: Nick Moore
Music: Craig Armstrong
Main cast: Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Martine McCutcheon