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Love, Actually at Twenty: Ranking EVERY Storyline

6 min read

Christmas is coming, geese are getting fat, and ITV2 are making the most of it's rights to 2003 rom-com Love, Actually. Even as we speak it's probably showing, go check we can wait… it was showing wasn't it? The festive favourite sees a series of interwoven stories of love over the course of the festive season. Like it or hate it, it's a staple of the season, with it's all star cast, classic lines and moments of genuine emotion. But, like all stories of crossing narratives, some are better than others. And so, for the twentieth anniversary, we rank from worst to best, the storylines of Love, Actually.


An oddly mean spirited storyline from the hopelessly romantic Richard Curtis sees office worker Sarah (Laura Linney) pine for hunky nerd Karl (Rodrigo Sontoro). She's America, middle aged, a little lacking in confidence. He's basically Superman, a mild mannered office geek who is hiding spectacular abs. Everyone knows Sarah loves Karl, so eventually she musters up the courage to ask Karl out, but it cannot be as Sarah has a mentally unwell brother. A storyline that makes Sarah a martyr to her mentally ill brother who lives in an assisted living facility and therefore doesn't need her to mummy him 24/7. Sarah could easily date Karl and visit her brother, but perhaps it's for the best, there's chemistry between Linney and Sontoro.

Universal Pictures


Before he was Rick Grimes, Andrew Lincoln was the creepy Mark in this storyline. Chiwetel Ejiofor's Peter and Keira Knightley's Juliet get married, and Mark films it, but it turns out that Mark has long harboured feelings for Juliet. It's a little uncomfortable, pining for your best-mate's wife, and Knightley looks about twelve years old at the time so it's all very uncomfortable. It's not aged well, and the final scene in which Juliet secretly kisses Mark is not the romantic victory Curtis thinks it. The end of the storyline somewhat redeems the weirdness with Lincoln's happy / sad delivery of “okay, enough now”. Having gained closure, Mark is free to move on, and in a way that sort of makes the storyline bearable.

Universal Pictures


Back when Liam Neeson was a proper actor and not a guy who punches baddies in the throat, he starred as Daniel, a widower left to look after his step-son Sam (Thomas Brodie Sangster). The story concerns Sam deciding to learn how to become a drummer so he can impress his American classmate Joanna (Olivia Olson), instead of… you know grieving the untimely death of his mother. That Neeson and Sangster appear to make this weird storyline work even as it builds to a cliché ridden rush to the airport is some of the most impressive work in the film. It's not creepy, but it is weird – especially when you consider Sam is pining for a girl with the same name as his dead mother. Neeson, however, carries this as the supportive but out of his depth step-dad who just wants to help his step-son.

Universal Pictures


Long before he was known for Death in Paradise, Kris Marshall was known as the idiot eldest child in sitcom My Family and he's kind of playing that role here. As man-child Colin, he grows tired of apparently stuck-up British women and decides to travel to America is search of free and easy American women. Naturally he picks Wisconsin, and happens upon a small bar where a group of friends are – Ivana Miličević, January Jones, Elisha Cuthburt and later Shannon Elizabeth. They're so poor they share a bed… and have no pyjamas. It's an uneasy storyline in these modern times are three inhumanly attractive women fawn over the not hideous but decidedly average Marshall. The storyline's highlight is, however, the triumphant line “here comes Colin Frissell and he's got a big knob”, which is, objectively, hilarious.

Universal Pictures


Back when he was known as Tim from The Office and just before she was known as Stacey from Gavin and Stacey, Martin Freeman and Joanna Page play lighting doubles for movie sex scenes. The storyline is surprisingly savvy in how it shows the mundane nature of movie sex. Both start by making idle chit-chat, interrupted by the occasional request for John to cup Judy's breasts or to check the colour saturation on nipples. The burgeoning, awkward romance made funnier by the fact that the two spend their days simulating sex with no clothes on. Martin Freeman's glee at a kiss from Joanna Page might just be the most innocently sweet thing in the film.

Universal Pictures


We've had some dark times politically and the thought of as our Prime Minister only makes it seem darker. A charming, if oafish PM, David is newly elected as our leader and tries to settle into his job when new household staff member Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) catches his eye. There is an element of Clinton-Lewinsky but the film goes to pains to make sure there's as little power imbalance as possible. Highlights include multiple uses of the word “fuck”, discussions on biscuits and of course Hugh Grant dancing. The weird part is the constant mocking of Natalie as fat, McCutcheon can't be bigger than a size 12, and is possibly one of the most beautiful women in the film, so it's a little weird to hear someone say she has a “sizeable arse, huge thighs”, but it was 2003 and David doesn't seem to mind.


Was it this role that started the unending circle of love that everyone has for Bill Nighy? As fading rock star Billy Mack and with Gregor Fisher as his hard done by manager Joe, the two attempt to make Christmas number one with Mack's rendition of Love is All Around, cannily changed to Christmas is All Around. Perhaps the most hilarious of the stories thanks to Nighy's spot-on performance as a ageing rocker who openly hates his own song, flashes Michael Parkinson and tells kids not to buy drugs but instead become a rock star because you get them for free. The touching end where Mack realises the only person he loves is his loyal best friend Joe is a lovely sentiment, and keeps things from becoming romance centric.

Universal Pictures


What is Christmas if not a time to have a dignified cry? So, and enter the film (the third of four times they're paired together on screen), and play a married couple of some years, with two kids. Rickman's Harry has caught the eye of his secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch) who has him questioning if he wants to try something. The scene of him trying to buy her a necklace only to almost be thwarted by Rowan Atkinson's shop clerk (originally supposed to be shown as an angel) allows Rickman to play his grumpy best. But it's Thompson, who upon realising her husband might be emotionally pulling away, if not physically, goes into her bedroom and quietly cries to Joni Mitchell that the film gets true, proper acting. The storyline's open-ended conclusion offers some redemption but it's one of the film's darker, and more upsetting storylines, aided by two performers with the utmost chemistry and respect for one another.

Universal Pictures


Jamie – at peak Firthness – is a writer who discovers his girlfriend is sleeping with his brother. So he goes to Portugal to finish his novel, and meets quiet housekeeper Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz). Curtis has a lot of fun with the culture clash – neither speak the other's language – and provides ample chances for confusion. Though the storyline does trade on Aurélia appearing unattractive until she takes off her clothes and jumps into a lake, the romance that blossoms between the two is classic love story material. Both see something in one another (and the love theme they share is the best music in the film). Curtis' shameless romanticism is best shown in the lovelorn looks they give each other as Jamie drops her off home. The exchange in which Jamie says “it's my favourite time of day, driving you”, and Aurélia replies “it's the saddest part of my day, leaving you” in languages the other can't understand might be romantic filmmaking at it's finest. Naturally they get the happiest of endings and their story remains the strongest of the film's.

Universal Pictures