Film, Partisan Cinema, Writing

Partisan Christmas Cinema: LOVE ACTUALLY (2003) – A Fairytale in Downing St

In a recurring feature called Partisan Cinema, A. J. Black looks at movies from a political slant, gleaning insight from them about how they relate to society then, and indeed now…

It would be fair to say that Richard Curtis’ crowd pleaser Love Actually is not hard hitting political discourse, but one of its central plot threads does warrant closer examination.

Curtis’ film is a loose-knit, Altman-esque character piece under the central umbrella of ‘love’, mostly involving Curtis’ traditional retinue of cloyingly middle class Londoners living in a fantasy version of Britain’s capital where everyone has money, time to navel-gaze, and doesn’t worry about laws such as breaching airport security gates and things like that. It is, simply, a load of sickeningly twee nonsense inflated, bizarrely, into some kind of totemic Christmas film that only humbugs suggest might not just be rubbish, but also contain numerous creepy plots and almost sociopathic characters.

You only have to look at Andrew Lincoln wooing Keira Knightley with cue cards on the doorstep of the house she shares not only with her boyfriend, but his best friend.

Leaving that aside, there is one plot line in Love Actually that bears looking at, given outside of Emma Thompson’s genuinely moving performance as the wife of a cheater, it probably stands as the only thread in the film that is easy to stomach: the romance between Hugh Grant’s incumbent British Prime Minister and Martine McCutcheon’s cockney Downing Street tea girl. There is a charm about their characters that belies the rest of the film, even if it bears almost zero reality with anything else in British politics, bar the thinnest of tangential nods and winks to both the Blairite and Bush eras – fitting as the film was made and is set during their tenures, and at the point tensions were fraying.

Love Actually might here be political fantasy, but it has one foot in post-9/11 reality.
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Essays, Film, The Greatest Showman

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN: Barnum’s biggest con job is on us

There are winds in the east, a storm coming in apparently for the newly released Mary Poppins Returns, if some of the box office reports are accurate.

Forbes are saying that Rob Marshall’s sequel is being seen off quite resoundingly by the surprisingly critically acclaimed Bumblebee, and the fairly divisive Aquaman. The absence of a Star Wars this Christmas for the first time in three years has meant studios have thrown a few major blockbuster candidates into the pot, but it would have been a sure fire bet that family friendly musical Mary Poppins Returns—featuring the half-century long return of one of Disney’s most iconic characters—would rule the roost. This does not seem to be the case so far.

Yet a year ago, another musical, trailing in the wake of The Last Jedi, took audiences increasingly by storm as 2018 kicked off: The Greatest Showman.

To date, Michael Gracey’s film has made $434 million dollars at the global box office, making it the fifth most commercially successful musical of all time. All. Time. In one year. It climbed considerably at the box office on the back of word of mouth, fighting off not just The Last Jedi but other competitors with franchises behind their backs – Pitch Perfect 3 (one of my worst films of 2017) and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. There was over a 70% jump weekend on weekend as the film closed out 2017, which for an original musical, and a 19th century biopic no less, is quite remarkable.

The film collected accolades and nominations for its music, particular the song ‘This Is Me’. In the UK it became only the second album in 30 years to achieve 11 consecutive weeks at number 1. Fans over just the space of a year have started attending ‘sing along showings’ of the film. A sing along version can be watched now on streaming services alongside the traditional way to view it.

This has all been in the space of just 12 months. Can you think of any other film of this genre which has captured the public consciousness in quite the same way in recent years? Only Frozen eclipses it for reach and cultural crossover between children and adults, and that has the advantage of being Disney animation. The Greatest Showman is a live action biopic. How did this happen? And my biggest question, the one that has been rolling around in my head since I watched it a year on from when it was released… how have so many people been conned by it?

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