Director – Richard Curtis
Year – 2003
Probably the ultimate cheesy Christmas movie, rarely bettered.
A voiceover (Hugh Grant) opens the film, commenting that whenever he gets gloomy about the state of the world he thinks of the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport, about the pure uncomplicated love of friends and families welcoming their loved ones. He also points out that the messages from the 9/11 victims were messages of love and not hate. We then see the ‘love stories’ of many people evolve:
Billy Mack and Joe
With his long-time manager Joe (Gregor Fisher), rock and roll legend Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) records a Christmas version of The Troggs’ 1967 song “Love Is All Around”, titling it “Christmas Is All Around”. Although believing the record is terrible, Mack promotes the release in the hope it will become the Christmas number one single, which it does. He foregoes a victory party hosted by Sir Elton John to celebrate Christmas with Joe, getting drunk and watching porn.
Juliet, Peter and Mark
Juliet (Keira Knightley) and Peter’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wedding is videotaped by the best man, Mark (Andrew Lincoln), where a surprise band plays the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” as they walk out of the church. Although the couple believe Mark dislikes Juliet, he is actually in love with her. When he evades her requests to see the video he shot at the wedding, she shows up at his flat. Juliet insists she wants them to be friends, but when she views the wedding video Mark recorded, she sees many extreme close-ups of herself and few of Peter’s face. She realises Mark’s true feelings towards her. After an uncomfortable silence, Mark blurts out that he acts cold out of “self-preservation”.
On Christmas Eve, Juliet answers the doorbell to find Mark carrying a boombox playing a Christmas carol and large cue cards. While Peter is inside watching television, Mark tells a message of his love to Juliet through the cue cards. As he walks away down the street, Juliet runs after him, gives him a quick kiss and returns inside.
Jamie and Aurélia
Writer Jamie (Colin Firth) is pushed by his girlfriend (Sienna Guillory) to attend Juliet and Peter’s wedding alone, as she is ‘ill’. He returns before the reception to check on her, discovering she is having sex with his brother. Crushed, Jamie withdraws to his French cottage, where he meets Portuguese housekeeper Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz), who does not speak English. Despite not sharing a common language, they share a mutual attraction.
Jamie returns to England, realises he is in love with Aurélia and begins learning Portuguese. He returns to France to find her and ends up walking through town with her father and sister, gathering additional people as they walk to her waitressing job. In basic, and often grammatically incorrect Portuguese, he declares his love for her and proposes. She says yes in broken English, as the crowd erupts in applause.
Harry, Karen and Mia
Harry (Alan Rickman) is the managing director of a design agency; Mia (Heike Makatsch) is his secretary. He is happily married to Karen (Emma Thompson), a stay-at-home mother, with two children, Bernard and Daisy. Mia behaves overtly sexually with him at the office, asking him for a Christmas present. At the company Christmas party held at Mark’s gallery, they dance closely.
While Christmas shopping, Harry calls Mia asking what she wants for Christmas and is almost caught by his wife purchasing an expensive necklace in the shape of a love heart from the jewellery department because of the meticulous gift-wrapping of the salesman Rufus (Rowan Atkinson). Later on, Karen finds the necklace in Harry’s coat pocket, assuming it is for her. Opening a similarly shaped box for her under the tree on Christmas Eve, she is heartbroken to find it is a Joni Mitchell CD, realising he bought the necklace for someone else. Confronting Harry, she asks what he would do if he were her. She feels he has made a mockery of their marriage and of her.
David and Natalie
David (Hugh Grant), who is Karen’s brother, is also the recently elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) is a new junior member of the household staff at 10 Downing Street. During a meeting with the U.S. President (Billy Bob Thornton), they come across Natalie and the president makes some inappropriate comments to David about her. Later, David walks in on Natalie serving tea and biscuits to the President, and it appears that something untoward is happening. Natalie seems embarrassed, and the president has a sly grin on his face. At the following joint press conference, David is uncharacteristically assertive while taking a stand against the president’s intimidation techniques.
Feeling uncomfortable around Natalie, David has her moved to another position. However, he is spurred to action on Christmas Eve when he finds a Christmas card from her in his red box, declaring that she is his and only his. He finds her after a door-to-door search of her street. Her entire family is on their way to a multi-school Christmas play and he offers to drive them so he can talk to her. As Natalie sneaks him in to the school, he runs into his heartbroken sister, Karen, who believes he is there for his niece and nephew. As David and Natalie try to keep from being seen and watch from backstage, they finally kiss. Everyone sees them kissing as the curtain rises.
Daniel, Sam, Joanna and Carol
Daniel (Liam Neeson), Karen’s close friend, mourns the recent death of his wife, Joanna, as he tries to care for his stepson Sam (Thomas Sangster). Sam has fallen for an American classmate, also named Joanna (Olivia Olson), and after talking with his stepfather, decides to learn the drums to accompany her in the big finale for their school’s Christmas pageant; also at Karen and Harry’s children’s school. As Sam feels he has missed his chance to impress her, Daniel convinces him to try to tell Joanna how he feels at the airport, before she returns to the US. Sam slips through airport security and catches up with her, who acknowledges him by name and kisses him on the cheek, revealing she likes him too. Meanwhile, Daniel meets Carol (Claudia Schiffer), the mother of Sam’s schoolmate, and there is a mutual spark.
Sarah, Karl and Michael
Sarah (Laura Linney) first appears at Juliet and Peter’s wedding, sitting next to her friend Jamie. An American working at Harry’s graphic design company, she has been in love with the creative director, Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) for years. Prompted by Harry, they finally connect at the Christmas party and he drives her home. Michael, her mentally ill brother, phones from his mental care facility, causing their evening tryst to be aborted. On Christmas Eve they are both working late, but Karl just wishes her a merry Christmas and leaves. Sarah calls, and goes to see Michael, gifting him a Christmas scarf.
Colin, Tony and the American girls
Unsuccessfully attempting to woo various English women, including Mia and Nancy (Julia Davis), Juliet and Peter’s wedding caterer, Colin Frissell (Kris Marshall) informs his friend Tony (Abdul Salis) that he plans to go to America, convinced that his Britishness will be an asset. Landing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Colin meets Stacey (Ivana Miličević), Jeannie (January Jones) and Carol-Anne (Elisha Cuthbert), three stunningly attractive women who instantly fall for his Estuary English accent, inviting him to stay at their home, where they are joined by their room-mate Harriet (Shannon Elizabeth).
John and Judy
John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) are professional stand-ins for films. They meet doing the sex scenes for a film for which Tony is a production assistant. John tells Judy that “It is nice to have someone [he] can just chat to.” While they are perfectly comfortable being naked and simulating sex on-set, they are shy and tentative off-set. They carefully pursue a relationship, attending the Christmas pageant (involving David and Natalie, Harry and Karen’s children, Daniel and Sam, etc.) at the local school with John’s brother.
Rufus (Rowan Atkinson) is the jewellery salesman whose meticulous gift-wrapping nearly results in Karen seeing Harry buying a necklace for Mia. In another scene, his distraction of airport staff enables Sam to sneak past them to talk to Joanna. (In the director and cast commentary, it is revealed that Rufus was originally supposed to be a Christmas angel, but this was dropped from the final script.)
One month later, all of the characters are seen at Heathrow Airport. Billy’s Christmas single has spurred a comeback. Juliet, Peter and Mark meet Jamie and his bride, Aurélia. Karen and the kids greet Harry, but Karen’s stifled reaction suggests they are struggling to move past his indiscretion. Sam greets Joanna, who has returned from America, and Daniel is joined by his new girlfriend Carol and her son. Newlyweds John and Judy, heading off to their honeymoon, run into Tony, who is awaiting Colin’s return from America. Colin returns with Harriet and her sister Carla (Denise Richards), who meets Tony for the first time but greets him with a hug and a kiss on the lips. Natalie welcomes David back from his flight in view of the press, showing their relationship is now public. These scenes dissolve into footage of actual arrivals at Heathrow, as the screen is divided into an increasing number of smaller segments which form the shape of a heart.
Interconnections between the Love Actually characters
All the stories are linked in some way; while Billy Mack and his manager may not connect with any of the other characters physically, Billy appears frequently on characters’ radios and TVs, his music video twice providing an important plot device for Sam’s pursuit of Joanna, and they also cross paths with the other characters in the closing Heathrow scene. John and Judy work with Tony, who is best friends with Colin, who works for a catering company that services the office where Sarah, Karl, Mia and Harry work. Mia is friends with Mark, who runs the art gallery where the Christmas office party takes place. Mia also lives next door to Natalie. Mark is in love with Juliet and friends with Peter. The couple are friends with Jamie and Sarah. Harry is married to Karen, who is friends with Daniel and her brother is David, who works with Natalie. Harry and Karen’s children (and thus David’s niece and nephew), Natalie’s siblings (and thus Mia’s neighbours) and Carol’s son are all schoolmates of Sam and Joanna. An additional plot that was dropped in editing concerned the children’s headmistress (Anne Reid) and her dying lesbian partner (Frances de la Tour).