Will Love Actually ever go out of date, actually?

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Richard Curtis' Christmas classic, Love Actually. Lara Olszowska interviews six first-time viewers to find out how well the film has aged.

love actually has it aged well

In a Love Actually 20th anniversary special that aired on ABC News last month, Richard Curtis admitted earnestly: “My film is bound in some moments to feel out of date. The lack of diversity makes me feel uncomfortable and a bit stupid.” Very woke of you to say, Richard. Given 20 years have passed, it’s no surprise the film is behind the times, but does this really affect its popularity among viewers today?

As an avid watcher of the film – I’ve seen it a minimum of once a year for the last twelve – I felt compelled to investigate whether Love Actually really has lost its modern-day mojo. Channelling my inner Louis Theroux, I decided to speak to some people on the internet who had never seen the film before, asking them to watch it and tell me their thoughts. 

hugh grant love actually

“Is Hugh Grant in Love Actually?”

In the comments on my Twitter thread appealing for interviewees, I was met with ambivalence, even hostility. “I loathe that movie,” one person wrote, without explanation. “Is Hugh Grant in it?” asked another. Others claimed never to have seen or heard of the Christmas classic. 

For any readers unfamiliar with the film, it follows nine different love stories of predominantly white middle class Londoners whose lives are connected by six degrees of separation. Their characters’ fates range from hilarious (“would you like that…gift wrapped?”) to romantic (a Portuguese proposal and a smitten Prime Minister) to heartbreaking (looking at you Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson) to ridiculous (Colin Frissell and Billy Mack, obviously). But what do the people think of it all, actually?

“I only made it 30 minutes in. I found it so boring!” concludes music supervisor Jumi, 26. Off to a good start. “Richard Curtis films are a bit twee and unrealistic, sort of an idealised view of London where everyone lives in a gentrified part of Zone 1 and 2,” she adds. 

“As a Black woman, I don’t really go into films like this looking for representation. Whilst the fact that it’s idealised is a bit annoying, I think that’s sort of the point. Though this also might be an unintended result of it mirroring Curtis’ own social circles,” she supposes.

It’s a fair assessment, and one that broadcaster Dhruti, 41, picked up on too, calling it “a very privileged film.” “I’m not saying I have to watch everything with Asian characters in,” she added, “but why would I feel like I don’t belong by watching a film, when I can just feel that in real life?”

love actually the ultimate romantic comedy

Can Love Actually still claim to be ‘the ultimate romantic comedy’?

Comedian Finlay, 23, spotted how the representation of class “might age badly” too. “If you can look past that, it will always be popular with middle class people,” he laughs. “It’s like when you watch Friends and you’re a bit annoyed by how nice their flat is.”

Class is played up in the romance between the Prime Minister, David (Hugh Grant) and his PA, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). Natalie’s line “‘I’m from Wandsworth the dodgy end’ made me laugh,” Finlay recalls, “she lives in a lovely house!” 

Their romance certainly acquired new meaning in light of recent political turmoil. “Hugh Grant’s got Matt Hancock vibes moving his younger assistant,” Finlay jokes. (‘Moving’ is Gen Z parlance for ‘getting with’). It’s hard to compare which is more cringe – Hugh Grant’s dancing through number 10 or Matt Hancock’s stint on I’m a Celeb

love actually sign scene

The infamous sign scene. Credit: Universal Pictures

The comments around Natalie’s weight that crop up throughout the film did not receive such light-hearted reception. “What was the point of putting that in?” asks dog therapist Jo, 49. “She’s beautiful and wasn’t even overweight,” she adds. PR executive Joe, 36, felt the same: “The fat thing is bizarre to me. That is very outdated and weird.”

In an interview with Cosmopolitan in 2017, McCutcheon defended the mentions of her weight in the film, saying “That was the whole point, you’re meant to go: ‘No she’s not [fat], I think she’s lovely!’ because that’s how men think about a lot of women who constantly criticise each other and themselves…I think somewhere along the way, people didn’t get that.”

A storyline that flopped for magazine founder Vanessa, 33, was the “practically pornographic” one about the body doubles. Dhruti and Jumi both thought Love Actually was a “family film” until the doubles appeared nude on screen. “I didn’t understand at all what woman-from-Gavin-and-Stacey and Martin Freeman were doing. What the fuck was that?” Finlay asks, incredulous. 

Another missing piece according to sources, was a gay romantic storyline – one was filmed but later cut, to Curtis’ regret. “If you’re talking about love, you can’t exclude same sex relationships,” Jo says. We even get a glimpse of toxic masculinity when Karen (Emma Thompson) tells her friend Daniel (Liam Neeson) to ‘get a grip’ about the loss of his wife because ‘people hate sissies. No-one’s ever going to shag you if you cry all the time’. “Comments like ‘sissy’ age it more than the actual love stories,” Jo believes.

I was surprised to find one of the most iconic stories in the film provoked some very different reactions – that of Mark (Andrew Lincoln) and Juliet (Keira Knightley). Finlay enjoyed being “wrongfooted” by Mark’s love for Juliet, originally believing him to be gay. Vanessa thought it was “a little sloppily thrown in there.” Joe was convinced Mark was a “snake”, and Jo sympathised the most. “Anybody that’s loved somebody and not been able to give that love to them would understand that,” she says.

love actually liam neeson

Credit: Universal Pictures

Jo’s remark serves as a reminder, that this is a film about love, and this is what keeps people watching it year on year. “To love and be loved is a universal thing that most people want in their lives. It’s what we all seek – connection,” Jo argues. Especially this time of year, which Finlay reminds me is “cuffing season.”

For Vanessa, it was “refreshing” to watch “situations where people actually meet people in person as opposed to online.” As someone in a love-hate relationship with dating apps, I take her point. “Richard Curtis hasn’t heard of the epidemic of lonely young men due to dating app Chads,” Finlay points out. And thank God. Imagine how different Colin, self-proclaimed God of Sex, would be if he had a dating app. He’d sit in his room swiping for eternity and never buy that one-way ticket to Wisconsin. 

The pain of Karen receiving the Joni Mitchell CD and not the gold necklace. Sam’s (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) innocent understanding of love in his pursuit of Joanna (Olivia Olson). Jamie (Colin Firth) learning Portuguese to propose to Aurelia. Rowan Atkinson’s shop assistant scene, which Joe calls “comedic genius.” The power, relatability, and nostalgia of these tales seem to prevail every time, even if some are outdated or a little ridiculous.

“Would I see it again? Absolutely. Would I watch it next week? Definitely,” Vanessa says. “Would I go watch it now? Not by choice,” Dhruti disagrees. “I can see why people continue to engage with it yearly,” Joe concedes. “It’s not ageing brilliantly but I still enjoyed it and probably would watch it again,” Jo says. “I really wanted to hate it,” Finlay admits, “but it’s a fantastic film.” For Jumi, “it feels like an essential part of Christmas whether you like it or not.”

Love Actually is a product of its time, like all films are, and if Curtis did it all again, maybe we’d see more sexualities and ethnicities represented, we’d have a more woke script regarding mental health and body image, we’d have dating apps and online shopping, and we might sack off the body double storyline altogether. Does that still sound like Love Actually, or a film you would watch? Another question for another article. In the meantime, I’ll be watching it again this year.

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