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Home > Film

Love Actually: the most hateful British film since Maybe Baby

by Robin Ince

9 February 2004

Empire magazine readers voted Love Actually the best British film of 2003 this week, suggesting one of two things - Empire readers are so utterly moronic that their brains are unable to decode the signals sent into their eyes and ears, or that 2003 was the worst year for British films since people paid money to go and watch Old Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (starring Arthur Lucan and his husband-beating wife Kitty McShane).

To put it in some perspective, I think that Love Actually is the most hateful British film I have seen at the cinema since Maybe Baby, though clearly it is not more hateful than that. Almost every element of the film is so unpleasantly calculated, every strand so predictable and nauseating.

Rather than a film as a whole it is merely a collection of closing set-pieces from some trite movie romances. The characters live in a world where everyone is a millionaire, judging by their walk-in fridges and vast London houses, they frequently fall in love with their servants, oh and to appease some of the up start nay-sayers of Notting Hill, Richard Curtis ensures that some of his best extremely minor supporting characters are black.

The only thing that stopped me pulling the oiled revolver from my jeans and assassinating the projectionist was Bill Nighy's ebullient comic turn as a has-been rock star. It seems that Richard Curtis got writer's block on the last ten screenplays that he attempted to write and so glued them all together and hoped that the vacuous gloop would be made palatable by a top notch supporting cast.

I am told by an acquaintance of Richard Curtis that he truly believes in the miraculous beauty of love, but he conveys little more here than would be found in a rhyming couplet in a valentine's card revolving on a stand inside a Shell
garage.

Certainly Love Actually looks like being the biggest grossing UK film released in 2003, but was there really nothing to surpass it? In terms of box office receipts, few British films made much of a dent. September saw the proudest moment for home grown cinema with the top 3 films all being UK financed to a greater or lesser extent - the pointless Italian Job remake , the more charming Calendar Girls and the quite awful Underworld (could someone turn the brightness up, I can't see a thing apart from the multiple acts of idea thievery).

The other number one box office smash was also a frightful comedy - do you dare look at the horror of Johnny English? I imagine that was chasing Love Actually up to the very last minute of ballot counting.

So what did the Empire readers miss?

There was Nine Dead Gay Guys which, despite performances by Michael Praed and Carol Decker, appears to have made 20 at the box office in the third week of October (how on earth can you only make 20?).

Or what of Mrs Caldicott's Cabbage War, one of those vaguely pleasant movies about fighting authority that we enjoyed churning out in the fifties where the little man on a bicycle's livelihood was threatened by a new supermarket/ multi-screen American-owned cinema / professional whorehouse. The little man won and we all laughed.

Blackball put us in the 'crazy English eccentric world of bowls' and gave Paul Kaye a chance to shine under the tutelage of Director Mel Smith. Sadly, the mathematical formula of creation was just too obvious and it failed to please.

But it wasn't all comedies designed by a Microsoft programme, there were other films that tried harder, even if they weren't quite gems. Ripley's Game failed to excite like The Talented Mr Ripley, but despite its flaws there were moments and performances to enjoy. Bright Young Things had flashes of excellence though ultimately the meeting of Stephen Fry and Evelyn Waugh was not what we should have expected.

Heartlands was a 'little man against the odds' movie, this time a man on a moped with a mission and a set of darts. The film had a charming central performance from occasional Tony Blair, Michael Sheen, and avoided the elated lachrymose ending that Hollywood would surely have insisted upon, but it didn't quite hang together and slipped into cardboard quirks once too often. Mind you, it's not often we get to see Paul Shane on the big screen nowadays.

So with these kind of choices, maybe Love Actually was the right choice.

Don't be so ridiculous.

There were some, not many, very good British films this year, often co-financed and helmed by non-Brits.

Jim Sheridan's In America, a semi-autobiographical tale of an Irish family moving to a New York slum and trying to deal with the death of a son, was immaculately acted and genuinely moving. The winning of an ET doll at a fair has never been this suspenseful.

Swimming Pool gave Francois Ozon another chance to reveal Charlotte Rampling's breasts, but was also an amusing, peculiar thriller about writer's block with an ending perfectly structured to annoy.

Young Adam was the bleakest film of the year, impossible to enjoy, but highly compelling, have Down with Love or Big Fish ready to cure you of your inherited melancholy. David Cronenberg's Spider was similarly bleak and utterly beautiful to look at.

The bleakest Scot of the Year was Wilbur played by Jamie Sives in the self-explanatorily titled Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself. Few films about suicidal impulses, cancer and secondhand books could be this funny and delightful. Directed by Danish Dogme-ite Lone Scherfig, this film conjured up more love, romance and laughter in its opening title sequence than Richard Curtis managed in the whole of Love Actually. Perhaps it's something to do with creating characters rather than comedy ciphers?

Not a great year for British cinema, but let us thank all those foreigners who bothered to come over and help show us what cinema might be capable of.

Now can someone just come up with a film magazine that is neither as trite as Empire or as worthy Sight and Sound. Oh they did, and it was called Neon and no fucker bought it.

(Don't forget S Club Seeing Double and The Actors)



Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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