Representation In Love Actually

Alice Bennett

Love Actually is a very popular Christmas film, securing a place on multiple “Best Christmas Film” lists including Vulture’s, Independent’s and Entertainment Weekly’s. It features a star-studded ensemble cast and a variety of different stories that intertwine, with an overarching theme of love in all its forms and expressing love at Christmas. However, despite its multiple storylines, it becomes apparent upon re-watching the film in 2021 that the film is fairly behind when it comes to representation.

It’s hard as a viewer in 2021 not to see the glaring missteps when it comes to representation

An ensemble cast is perhaps one of the easiest ways to incorporate characters of different races, sexuality and genders without it seeming like merely fulfilling a quota. Yet the film features a very small proportion of non-white characters, none of which are a part of the main storylines. With such a large number of roles to fill, this seems like a major oversight which could have so easily been fixed in this long list of characters.

The same argument can be made for LGBTQ+ representation; one or two of the worse storylines definitely could have been cut to make room for at least one LGBTQ+ couple (the weird porn film storyline with Martin Freeman and Joanna Page and Kris Marshall’s trip to America comes to mind). The makers of Love Actually are also responsible for Four Weddings and a Funeral, which was made nearly 10 years earlier yet included a fairly positive and progressive representation of a gay couple, so there seems to be no reason why this couldn’t be included a decade later in a slightly more accepting climate, especially in a film specifically about love.

As the Independent article, ‘Why Love Actually is not the heart-warming romcom you’re remembering’, points out, the representation of female characters is an issue in the film as ‘all the power and agency belongs to the male characters, while women – often their younger employees – are silent, appreciative, pretty things’- the only exception being Emma Thompson’s character who is then ‘punished’ and cheated on by Alan Rickman’s character with – of course – his young and pretty employee. This concerning power dynamic is especially present in the story of Prime Minister David and Natalie – played by Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon – in which somehow the audience is supposed to sympathise with David who moves Natalie to a different department just because he’s jealous that the predatory American president makes a move on her, despite her having no control over the situation.

The representation of women is also problematic in regards to their oversexualisation; the sexual aspects of the film are of course exclusively reserved for the women. Upon re-watching, I forgot how much unnecessary nudity – female nudity specifically – there is. The representation of women as only sexual objects is also apparent in the case of the background singers in Billy Mack’s music video, with uncomfortable close-ups of the women’s breasts and licking their lips. It’s all very much in favour of the male gaze, which is especially obvious in the scene when Colin Firth’s pages of his book fall into the lake- there is an extensive and excessively long close up of Aurelia (Sienna Guillory) undressing to jump in the lake to retrieve them, whereas Colin Firth’s character Jamie clumsily jumps in after her fully clothed (a missed opportunity for a Pride and Prejudice reference). I don’t think I even have to explain how this applies to the ridiculous American storyline. Essentially, the roles of the women are often reduced to sexual objects, which would be slightly less egregious if there were at least some strong female characters who were either older or in positions of power – again, this is very achievable in an ensemble cast with multiple storylines.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the film for what it is and not taking it too seriously

Although Love Actually is considered a feel-good Christmas movie, it’s hard as a viewer in 2021 not to see the glaring missteps when it comes to representation, especially given the fact that it is an ensemble cast. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the film for what it is and not taking it too seriously, it is also important to remember that representation in popular film does have an effect on stereotypes and the way we see ourselves. Everyone deserves to be included and represented, especially in a film that is supposed to represent love in all its forms.

Alice Bennett

Featured Image courtesy of Nick Fewings via Unsplash. Image use license found here. No changes made to this image.

In article trailer courtesy of Movieclips Classic Trailers via youtube.com. No changes were made to this video.

In article image courtesy of loveactuallyfilm via instagram.com. No changes made to these images.

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