Artwork by Sarah Kennedy
Love Actually might be my favourite Christmas film. Despite the incredibly questionable female characters, it’s the most warm, sweet, and happy tears inducing film I’ve ever seen. It also has an amazing cast, which is probably the reason it is still so beloved 11 years later. Along with all this, Love Actually has music that goes hand in hand with the film perfectly, like the story, characters and songs were all cut from a plant of glittery sugary magic that Richard Curtis grew.
Music is central to Love Actually to an almost surprising degree. The first real scene of the film, after the soppy ‘Whenever I get gloomy at the state of the world’ schtick, is a song. The Christmas spin on Love Is All Around sung by Bill Nighy sets up what the film is at it’s heart – unapologetically cheesy. The rendition fades into a montage which introduces so many of the principal characters. So much of this film is set to musical montage, which as a big montage fan, I love. Music naturally separates the scenes too, like a seemingly organic editor. It moves us through transitions, unifying the characters who at the beginning seems completely disconnected.
While the Billy Mack storyline is the one most focused on music, it pops up in multiple plot lines. Sam learns the drums to impress the girl he fancies, the young Mariah Carey. There is the big All You Need Is Love scene at the wedding, which hints at the one from The Walking Dead’s feelings for Keira Knightley even though she literally just married Chiwetel Ejiofor. Joni Mitchell is held so dearly to Emma Thompson’s heart and plays over probably the most moving scene of the film. Emma Thompson never deserves to cry because her shitty husband bought his secretary a necklace.
The perhaps iconic scene of Love Actually is the one where Hugh Grant dancing around 10 Downing Street to Jump by the Pointer Sisters. It’s a perfect summary of the film and it’s relationship with music – pop to the core, in terms of the genre and it’s heart winning overriding popularity it seems to have. It’s a sweet funny scene that’s hard to dislike, because it offers nothing to dislike. I think the soundtrack attempts to echo this. Who is going to complain about fun 80s pop? The music becomes extra special when it delves into the noughties. Too Lost In You by Sugababes can pretty much summarise pop music in 2003; girl groups, manufactured artists, overuse of the word ‘baby’, dramatic vocals. Special shout outs to Kelly Clarkson and Dido, who also feature. Can you even think of two female vocalists more synonymous with the early 2000’s.
So, the soundtrack is excellent, but the score offers an almost perplexing contrast. The three Love Themes composed by Craig Thomas have become lodged in my head whenever I think of this film – it’s so different to the pop music littered throughout. It’s delicate and touching and, in the case of Prime Minister’s Love Theme, it’s the epitome of soaring and heroic music found in romantic films. This sounds oddly specific, but I imagine those who have seen the film multiple times know exactly what I’m thinking of, the perpetually rising orchestra and the crashing drums, Colin Firth running down the stone steps of a French town, cut against Sam doing the best airport dash of all time.
The soundtrack clashes with the score in a way that shows the dual way Love Actually presents itself. First and foremost, it’s a fun film. It’s cheesy and ridiculous and the pop music reflects this. I am fairly sure Puppy Love appears at some point. The score conveys the sincerity that the film does (at least try) to have, in its most emotional moments. It isn’t a tearjerker for nothing. Both veins of music, however, reinforce the title – they’re about love, actually. It isn’t subtle. This film is literally all about love, however clichéd it becomes. It ends on God Only Knows by The Beach Boys. ‘God only knows what I’d be without you’ – that’s what Curtis clearly believes love is, what shapes us as individuals. Thus, he lets the overly romantic music shape his film for him.