Many holiday-movie classics date back a lot of years, but “Love Actually” is one of relatively recent vintage.
Writer-director Richard Curtis’ many-charactered, multi-plotted, enormously entertaining 2003 comedy-drama — which Freeform shows Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 7 and 8 — has Christmas baked right into its plot, opening several weeks before the yuletide in England. Its major figures connect in a “Six Degrees” sort of way, though in certain cases, it takes getting through the whole movie to know just how.
Among them: the newly elected prime minister (Hugh Grant), who does all he can to resist his foul-mouthed but engaging personal aide (Martine McCutcheon); his sister (Emma Thompson), who counsels a new-widower friend (Liam Neeson) while having doubts about her husband’s (Alan Rickman) fidelity; and one of the husband’s employees (Laura Linney), who has a crush on a co-worker (Rodrigo Santoro) that’s obvious to everyone else at the office.
But wait! There’s more! To wit: the widower’s young stepson (Thomas Sangster), who’s nursing his own crush on a classmate (Olivia Olson … and wait until you hear her cut loose on “All I Want for Christmas Is You” in a school talent show); a writer (Colin Firth) who becomes attracted to his housekeeper (Lucia Moniz) while isolating for work; two actors in a porn movie (Martin Freeman, Joanna Page); a groom’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) best friend (Andrew Lincoln), who secretly pines for the bride (Keira Knightley); and mildly self-delusional Colin (Kris Marshall), who leaves the U.K. for America, intending to captivate its female population.
And there’s still one more, quite hilariously, in the form of Billy Mack (a great Bill Nighy) — a washed-up rock star who finds himself back at the top of the charts with a Christmas-slanted take on the Troggs’ pop standard “Love Is All Around” that Billy himself can’t stand.
That’s clearly a lot of territory for one film to cover, and it’s pretty remarkable how smoothly and seamlessly “Love Actually” achieves it. Curtis also provides room for some memorable turns by actors who don’t have front-one stories, an obvious one being Rowan Atkinson as a store worker who wraps a holiday gift like he’s conducting a symphony (while all that Rickman wants to do is grab the present and run).
Those who love “Love Actually” love it with a passion, and it’s easy to see why. Its characters are hugely relatable, whether it’s a matter of watching Grant dance around 10 Downing Street to Pointer Sisters music (when he thinks no one’s watching … oops) or seeing Lincoln have an emotional unraveling when his ardor is discovered by the object of his affection.
Making a modern Christmas movie that stands the test isn’t easy — witness the many that have tried and failed — but “Love Actually” succeeds. And it will for generations to come, actually.