by D.K. Latta
Does the world need yet another Love, Actually hot-take?
Sure. Like tinsel — can there ever be too much?
I like Love, Actually and usually re-watch it every few years around the holidays. But it makes an interesting barometer of evolving cultural attitudes, as each time I see it aspects become more cringey or dated (like how nonchalant references to a “handsy” co-worker seem problematic in this #MeToo era).
So let’s consider an intriguing sexual subtext to the film.
I started thinking about this more generally after noticing how common it is in modern British movies, TV, and even radio dramas, for the female lead to be played by either (a) an American (b) a UK actress playing American (c) an American putting on a UK accent. And when I say “common” I mean wildly disproportionate to the male lead being American/American-presenting.
Obviously a grey area here is making the distinction between a largely British production and a non-British production (ie: Hollywood) inclined to prioritize American actors (like The Lord of the Rings films).
I think the trend started in the 1990s with films like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill, and continues to this day with everything from Killing Eve to Love Wedding Repeat.
Are British producers convinced an American female lead guarantees box office gold? Or do (mostly male) British filmmakers have a fetish for American accents? (Or American/Canadian accents if you want to be inclusive). Do they see American women as sexier than British?
Which brings us to the Yuletide classic, Love, Actually — by Richard Curtis, a man responsible for a number of those ’90s films I referenced! In Love, Actually’s main cast the only American is a woman — Laura Linney. (There’s also Billy Bob Thornton — but we’ll be circling back to him).
Then there’s the plot-line about Colin (Kris Marshall), a dorky British guy convinced America is the land of beautiful woman — and who is, apparently, vindicated! Someone once told me they found this plot a weird outlier in the movie. But viewed through my thesis — maybe to the filmmakers it’s the most heartfelt and “real.” Then we have the little drummer boy (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) whose crush also turns out to be American (Olivia Olson).
See a pattern?
Then I started expanding that thought beyond Americans. The Colin Firth plot involves him falling for a Portuguese woman (Lúcia Moniz). While Liam Neeson’s ideal woman is supermodel Claudia Schiffer — a German.
So the movie is rife with plots of affable British men pursuing — and winning! — beautiful non-British women.
And how many plot threads involve British women pursuing and winning non-British men?
Having trouble tallying them up? I’ll give you a hint: none.
Then we get to Billy Bob Thornton (I told you we’d circle back) as an American man challenging the virility and masculinity of that epitome of Britishness, Hugh Grant.
So the movie is full of British men winning non-British women, while presenting non-British men as a threat to British masculinity, and in which the very notion British women might desire or be happy with non-British lovers isn’t even a consideration.
I don’t know, but if I were a British woman I might feel a bit insulted by the way movies like Love, Actually seem to view non-British woman as more desirable. And if I were a non-British woman — especially an American — I might be weirded out by the same.
An interesting couple of wild cards in this analysis are Karl (objet d’attraction for Laura Linney’s Sarah) and Mia who tempts Alan Rickman’s Harry. Mia actress Heike Makatsch is German — although I’m not sure if the audience is supposed to read her as non-British (it depends on whether British ears detect an accent my North American ears don’t). But if so, it reinforces the theme of non-British woman as more alluring than British ones, even as Mia is a potential homewrecker, a threat to the British marriage. Likewise, I was never entirely sure if Karl had a non-UK accent, but actor Rodrigo Santoro is indeed Brazilian. So in Karl do we have an exception: a desirable non-UK man? Except Sarah herself isn’t British. Nor does she win him in the end, perhaps making it a cautionary tale: she desires a non-British man and so the relationship is doomed.
Given the history of colonialism and patriarchy, this interpretation gives Love, Actually an odd, even creepy sub-text, doesn’t it? Maybe even out-creeping the revelation that Keira Knightley was only a teenager when she shot the movie! (Okay, no — nothing tops that for creepiness).
I wonder what might the next viewing of Love, Actually reveal?