Merry Scary Christmas: The Horror of Love Actually
Love Actually is a popular romantic Christmas film that I can’t honestly believe is meant to be taken as sincere. If this series is meant to talk about Christmas horror movies, then Love Actually is a horror film in disguise, in that we have elevated a film full of terrible men to the status of romcom classic that people make an annual tradition of watching. I want to believe this entire film is meant to be taken in jest: the joke, you see, is not that love makes fools of us all, but that these are all terrible fucking people, so please don’t be like them. Come, sit around the fireplace with me and let’s talk about the men of this film, ranked from mildly offensive to outright horrendous:
Tony and Peter
Tony (Abdul Salis) and Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) need to be mentioned here. They’re the most unproblematic and stable men of this whole film, which of course means they’re relegated to being side characters. They both patiently endure what ends up being a whole lot of white nonsense, and Tony says the only line that really means anything this entire film: “I think it’s crap.”
John (Martin Freeman) is an awkward, self-effacing sex simulation actor (a stand-in for the leads of the film), and on this list of terrible men he ranks lowest. He’s actually respectful of his co-star, and always asks for consent before doing things.
I question his work ethic though — he tackles his sex scenes with all the verve of an animatronic Barbie doll. He just looks distracted and disinterested in his job. He also talks endlessly during filming, about things like the tube and the Prime Minister. So either the film he’s in is a silent one, or John is endeavoring to make the most unsexy sex scene in existence. Tony, poor Tony, the director’s assistant, does his best to keep John on track, but there’s only so much he can do with someone who finds it appropriate to talk politics during sex. Come on, John, get it together.
Bill (Bill Nighy) is an old and crass musical has-been who does a Christmas version of his hit pop song in order to cash in. Bill is an awful person in general: he jokes about doing drugs in front of kids, drops F-bombs all over a live radio show, and brags on air that he shagged Britney Spears, but she was rubbish at it — Bill and the emcee have a good laugh over that because boys will be boys. Bill manages to be both irritating and redundant to this entire film, with all his gross antics being looked at fondly by the general public. Wouldn’t you know it, we apparently love old white men who abuse their public platforms to get away with inappropriate statements.
Bill’s tale also includes one of the biggest No Homo plots I’ve ever seen. There’s a scene where Bill realizes he doesn’t want to spend his Christmas with a bunch of models but with his male manager, who he has derided as fat and ugly on literally every talk show he’s been on (True love!). Bill shows up at his manager’s place and tells him that he’s the love of his life, and they hug. But this isn’t romantic, you see, as later it shows them escorting two hot women to a party. They then turn to each other with saucy grins and give each other the most overly emphasized fist bump ever, the universal sign of bromance.
Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) is the attractive coworker of Sarah (Laura Linney). He comes off as soft-spoken, artistic, and sweet, until you find out he’s actually a fuckboy of the highest order.
Karl and Sarah end up slow dancing at their holiday party, and Sarah takes Karl home. Sarah is losing her mind over it because she’s had a crush on Karl for the longest time, to the point where apparently the whole office knows and they’re all tired of seeing her googly eyes. Karl and Sarah strip down and are about to have sex, but then Sarah gets a call and gasp! You find out Sarah has a brother! And that he’s mentally ill! And that Sarah is such a good sister that she will answer whenever he calls, even going so far as to decline the man she’s wanted to bone for forever in order to comfort him!
Well this apparently ends up being entirely too much fucking baggage for Karl because rather than talk to her afterwards and say, oh I don’t know, “hey, I think it’s sweet you care so much about your family,” he straight up ghosts her. BYE KARL.
Daniel and Sam
I’m sticking Daniel (Liam Neeson) and Sam (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) together because they basically function as a unit and they gleefully make a bunch of questionable decisions together.
Daniel is the stepfather of Sam, and when the movie begins they’ve both very recently lost Sam’s mother. And I mean recent as in like the first week of December, when the film starts. This is important because the strangest—maybe creepiest, you decide—aspect of their story is that literally everyone treats her death as if it’s no big deal.
For example: Daniel is obviously torn up about his wife’s death, so his best friend comes along about a week after her passing and says, “People hate sissies. No one’s going to shag you if you cry all the time.” Yes, good, I’m sure that will patch him right up.
Clearly everyone around Daniel is a terrible, heartless arsehole, which I guess is fine because you find out Daniel is kind of an arsehole himself, in the most unintentional move of probably this entire film. When Daniel finds out Sam is heartbroken, he decides the best way to comfort him is to have him watch Titanic. Later he sincerely jokes to Sam that he is a “motherless mongrel” and says if he meets Claudia Schiffer that Sam, a ten-year-old, is going to have to leave the house because him and Claudia are just going to bang all over every surface. What in god’s name, Daniel, the kid’s mom just died.
But really, Sam is not all that affected either. Daniel cautiously approaches Sam like a day after the funeral thinking he’s rightfully broken up about his mom, and that’s when you find out the little shit is actually just really upset the girl he has a crush on won’t give him the time of day. Maybe she just doesn’t like evil little boys who care more about girl crushes than their mom dying, Sam. He tells Daniel the girl he loves is named Joanna, and in a moment likely directed by Zack Snyder, Daniel is struck with immense feelings because his wife’s name was Joanna too.
And so begins Daniel and Sam’s journey together to get Other Joanna to like Sam, which culminates in Daniel encouraging Sam to run past airport security to meet Joanna at her gate. Sam manages to confess to Joanna with a ton of police on his heels, and with Joanna’s parents looking on in mild terror. Sam gets escorted out by security and him and Daniel shoot each other thumbs up signs, while Joanna’s parents look on, probably considering a restraining order.
Jamie (Colin Firth) is the poor man whose wife cheats on him with his own brother, so he runs off to the French countryside to write a book. You can see Jamie is a sweet guy, but he’s also a hot mess. One of his neighbors (or the house owner?) purchases him a mousy Portuguese maid, Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz). Aurelia can’t speak English or French, which gives me human trafficking vibes and also probably means Jamie was being gross enough around the house that it was starting to make people feel uncomfortable. But you can’t expect a true artist to know how to do basic things like clean.
So Hot Mess Jamie goes and sits outside to write, presumably while Aurelia cleans the trash fire that is his rented house. But it’s windy outside, so predictably half his book manuscript gets blown into the lake, and of course you find out he didn’t make any copies because he’s Hot Mess Jamie. Later he drops off Aurelia at home, and he’s so flustered by his crush on her that he literally crashes his car into someone else’s. He later bails on his entire family’s Christmas party after just saying “hello,” because he realizes only then that he wants to catch a flight back to France and proclaim his undying love for the woman he hasn’t actually ever had a full conversation with. Jesus Christ, Jamie.
So Jamie flies to France, somehow finds Aurelia’s dad’s place—a lot of men in this film excel at creepily finding out where people live—and asks for her hand in marriage. And then it becomes like some fuckin’ romanticized Bluebeard’s tale. “What’s going on?” a townsperson asks as Jamie and Aurelia’s family march to Aurelia’s job. “Father is about to sell Aurelia like a slave to this Englishman!” Cue titters! “What’s going on?” another townsperson asks. “Apparently he is going to kill Aurelia!” Somebody else chimes in, as touching music swells. Everybody in this universe has lost their minds. Somebody tell me again how this is not a real horror film, please.
Mark (Andrew Lincoln, prepping for his role as unstable Rick Grimes) is an artist second and stalker foremost. His story begins with Peter’s wedding, with Peter begging Mark to behave himself because clearly Mark is an all out wreck and Peter is tired, ya’ll. In the biggest overstatement of the entire film, Mark responds with, “Yeah, I’m mature now.”
Mark’s idea of art is a naked woman with tiny Christmas hats photoshopped on her nipples.
You find out that Mark has been standoffish to Peter and his wife Juliet (Keira Knightley) because he’s actually in love with Juliet. You also find out he spent the entirety of Peter and Juliet’s wedding filming Juliet’s face up close like some sort of serial killer.
Juliet of course finds out, and Mark makes a quick exit left, but not before saying, “it’s a self-preservation thing, you see,” like the audience doesn’t get why suddenly Mark is running away like his ass is on fire. Mark is a psychopath but also not a very subtle one.
And then on Christmas Eve, despite claiming he has any amount of self-preservation, Mark just shows up uninvited to Peter and Juliet’s house, has Juliet lie to Peter and say it’s carolers at the door, and then uses giant cardstocks to silently confess to Juliet how much he’ll always love her. In what world is this an acceptable next move after a woman finds out you just filmed her face for five hours? Worryingly, how does anybody in the real world find this romantic?
And how would’ve Mark explained away a boombox and these giant freaking poster boards with Juliet’s name doodled on them had it just been Peter who answered the door instead?
I mean this is like Grade A stalker behavior—a very Shane-like move, I must say, Rick—and what does the film do? Reward Mark with a kiss from Juliet on the lips, of course. Hurrah for enforcing that persistence pays off, and no really means yes! Sure, Juliet doesn’t actually leave Peter, but are we supposed to believe somebody who films a woman so zoomed in that all you can see are her eyes, nose, and lips, is just going to stop and return to being a normal human being?
As an aside, there’s a scene where Sarah bluntly asks Mark at the wedding if he’s in love with Peter, which is a window into a different movie that I would’ve much preferred to see.
Colin (Kris Marshall) is an abhorrent creature who calls himself a God of Sex without a hint of irony as he literally picks his nose. He always looks like he’s contemplating how to become Jamie Dornan’s character in The Fall, and I have no doubt he sees himself as suave as Patrick Bateman. He’s crass, misogynistic, and disgustingly unaware, and uses his catering job to bestow unwanted one-liners on women like: “try some of my nuts,” “beautiful muffin for a beautiful lady,” and “morning to my future wife.”
He later shoves food in a woman’s face, and then when she declines the food he eats it instead. He then tells her it’s disgusting and spits it back out onto the serving tray, all while on the job. When the woman he’s attempting to slobber all over calmly informs him she is in fact the chef who made that food, he throws a humongous tantrum. He claims British women are below him, and he’s truly meant for American women, who will worship him for his accent. The person who endures this entirely ugly rant is sweet, pure Tony, who for some reason is the close friend of this walking sewer drain, and has to listen to his verbal spewage right after his job of dealing with John Who Hates His Porno Job. Somebody please save Tony from these people.
The worst part of Colin’s story is, of course, that all of his awful opinions are validated. He flies to the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin for the sole reason of getting laid and immediately picks up four very attractive American women simply by breathing. He comes back to England, triumphant, to Tony, who looks like he wants to promptly exit this Earth.
The Prime Minister
The Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) is high up on this list simply because he’s a man in the highest political office in the land, the man who’s supposed to act better than the rest of us plebeians, and yet apparently he can’t control his trouser snake enough to act with propriety. His romance with his household staffer Natalie (Martine McCucheon) is treated largely as romantic by the film, culminating in them making out at a play full of children and the whole audience cheering. I don’t know, maybe there’s a cultural gap happening here, but in America if a boss comes on to a subordinate in the way the PM does to Natalie, we tend to call that abuse of power.
The Prime Minister is immediately smitten by Natalie upon first meeting her, maybe because it’s True Love or maybe because Natalie is wearing a low cut shirt, says “fuck” in front of him, or maybe because he’s just a sad, lonely man in need of human contact. His second interaction with her involves him very obviously fishing to see if she has a boyfriend.
In one of the first meetings we see the PM in, he jokes, “Who do you have to screw around here to get a tea and biscuit?” and everyone chortles because again just dudes being dudes and that’s a totally ok thing to bust out in a professional setting (Ignore like, the two women in the room who are forced to laugh along because this movie takes place in the Twilight Zone). And of course Natalie walks in with tea and biscuits then, because much wow very romance.
The PM—who doesn’t even have a name in the credits, why god—is just really stressed about his crush on his assistant, so he eventually asks Natalie to be transferred. This is equivalent to a teacher sending a girl home because her skirt is making it hard for him to concentrate on teaching.
The PM’s one good deed is that he defends Natalie’s honor after the American President sexually harasses her (because apparently every man in this film’s universe needs to be set on fire??). No, wait, he defends Britain’s honor against the President, while making eyes at Natalie that scream BRITAIN IS U, HONEY, because not like the PM should openly call out harassment of his staff or anything.
“You saucy minx,” the PM says to a portrait of Margaret Thatcher after dismissing Natalie. Listen, I didn’t endure the garbage that was the American Presidential election only so I can turn around and find anything Grant’s PM says remotely charming.
And here we are are the number one trash human being in this film, Alan Rickman’s character. His character’s name is Harry, but I refuse to call him that because who he really is is Snape. Snape is a cranky piece of garbage whose character tries to elicit sympathy from the viewer. Snape deserves to get ghosted like Sarah was, to get forgotten like Sam’s mom was.
Snape is Sarah’s boss and I can’t actually tell what he does at work other than be a nosy motherfucker. He brings Sarah into his office for the sole reason of asking how long she’s been in love with Karl, and then tells her everyone knows she wants to have Karl’s babies because he’s a totally appropriate boss.
When planning the holiday party, he tells Sarah to tell the girls to avoid Kevin “if they don’t want their breasts fondled” because why do your actual job as the boss and punish the male coworker who’s a known harasser when you can put the onus on the women to keep themselves from getting harassed! Then he turns to his assistant, Mia (Heike Makatsch), who is in love with him, and tells her, “I hope you don’t have some six-foot-tall, tight t-shirt wearing boyfriend you’ll be bringing.”
Ah, you see, he doesn’t do jackshit to really protect any of his female employees because he himself doesn’t know how to act properly around women.
Snape is the worst because he’s the kind of guy who sees himself as a beleaguered but ultimately good man. It’s not his fault, you see, that his female employee, Mia, is coming on to him and that she slowly wears him down. His home life is just so terrible, and it’s really not his fault. He’s not a wild caricature like Colin or Bill, but the type of subtly misogynistic guy that you encounter in the board room or at family gatherings. The type of man who undervalues women, who is disgusted when the woman he’s married moves beyond simple object of lust to being a three-dimensional human being.
His wife, Karen (Emma Thompson), is kind, funny, gentle, and understanding, and yet still he drifts for reasons unexplained other than he’s a terrible fucking person. Snape doesn’t offer to dance with Karen at his holiday party, but slow dances with Mia instead literally right in front of her. While Karen is helping her children make nice costumes for the Christmas play, Snape is thinking about Mia. When Karen humorously says she feels fat, Snape just looks on in mild disgust.
So Snape buys an expensive necklace for Mia and it’s implied he makes plans to go to her place. For his wife of thirteen years, he gets a CD. Karen finds out, cries, and calls him out on it, and he just stands there, frozen, like the idiot he is. Karen, graceful gazelle that she is, doesn’t divorce him on spot because she doesn’t want to ruin the night for her children. Really, the biggest horror of this whole film is Karen having to act like everything is fine at the end when it’s been revealed to her that she’s married to an actual walking human sphincter.
Love Actually is a beloved romance film full of men who cross boundaries, degrade women, and/or value a woman’s physical attractiveness above who she is as a person. As major cities across the nation gear up for their annual Love Actually holiday screening with friends and family, it really does feel like the joke is on us.