Ten years? Actually?

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the release of the now classic Love, Actually. Yes, I’ll give you a minute to get over the shock of that news. Ten years. Ten. Whole. Years.


We know it’s 2013, and that therefore 2003 was a decade ago, but am I alone in disbelieving this fact? This time 10 years ago I was coming to the end of my first term studying a MA at King’s, back in London after a year’s exile working in a bookshop in Gloucester. My internet was still dial-up; MSN Messenger was my primary form of communication between friends; Tony Blair was still PM; there were still new episodes of Friends, SATC & Dawson’s Creek to be watched… Can it really be a whole ten years ago??

I remember the release of Love, Actually vividly and for good reason. On the night of its world premiere (in London), I was babysitting a toddler in a flat in Muswell Hill, while her whole family (grandmother – my landlady; parents; aunt & uncle) attended the premiere, thanks to a fortuitous social connection. I still remember receiving a phone call that began “Elizabeth, remember I mentioned we might have tickets for the premiere of that new Richard Curtis film?” and wondering if I was about to be offered one of them – but no, I instead landed a lucrative babysitting job. [Angela, my landlady, always called me Elizabeth. I wasn’t in trouble, she just preferred it.]

56 year old Angela and I had a mutual love of one of the film’s stars. Not Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy or even Colin Firth – Alan Rickman. [I have explained before that love of the Rickman crosses several generations.] That night, Angela had her photo taken with the lovely Alan. When she showed it to me there were girly squeals from both of us!

Ten years later, my memories of Love, Actually‘s arrival into the world are bittersweet. Less than five years after I moved out of Angela’s house, she lost her battle with lung cancer. Every year, when I have my annual present wrapping while watching Love, Actually evening, I think of her.

I’m not the only person to have realised that the film is celebrating its entry into double figures – the lovely people at The Hairpin spotted it too, and marked the occasion with a series of stories imagining where the lead characters are now, accompanied by fabulous gifs of pivotal moments in the film.

10YearsSarahTell me this isn’t one of the best scenes? And who hasn’t one of those moments themselves?? 

And where is Sarah? 

“That Valentine’s Day she dined alone. A bottle of wine and five courses to herself. It wasn’t until the second that she realized a man two tables away had the same idea. By the third, she decided she would ask him to join her. By the fourth, she did. By the fifth, she was certain. By dessert, so was he.”

In France the other week, someone shared a story in their sermon about their son who’d insisted on being a dinosaur in his primary school’s nativity plays. Obviously, the line “Eight is a lot of legs, David.” sprung to mind immediately. So, in his honour – and in honour of all parents who are discovering what part their little darlings will be playing this year (is it just me, or has this been all over Facebook in the last week?), here’s the scene that changed our nativity play imaginations forever:

And actually, one last thing. You know what’s fun? Listening to the film’s soundtrack (by which I mean the score, as opposed to the songs – although both All You Need is Love and All I want For Christmas are fabulous) while wondering around the Christmassy streets of London, imagining that I’m living the plot of a Richard Curtis movie. Let me say again, Richard Curtis gave me unrealistic expectations about life! 

My suspension of disbelief does not extend to geography…

I was slightly dubious of whether Richard Curtis’ latest offering would captivate me in the way that Love, Actually or Four Weddings continues to do so. It had received some negative reviews and appeared to be more of a ‘male’ film than a chick-flick rom-com. Oh, and Curtis had done himself no favours by revealing in an interview that 500 Days of Summer was one of his favourite films. [See here for reasons why I strongly disagree with such an opinion.] But, following a positive Kermodian review, I was keen to see it.

The stars aligned last Friday, when, with time to kill on my day off, and intention to visit Stratfield (Stratford Westfield, for the uninitiated) later that day, a showing was timed perfectly. It was meant to be.

About-Time-UK-Quad-Poster-585x443A friend of mine has apparently been put off seeing the film by the use (or non-use) of capitalisation on the poster…

About Time has a plot that revolves around time-travel, which was another reason for my hesitation. I’m still of the mindset that The Time Traveller’s Wife is the most perfect example of such a plot. (So much so that I still can’t bear to watch the film lest the book be ruined forever.) Would it get silly? Would it go all sci-fi? Would I be able to suspend my disbelief for long enough that I could become absorbed in a tale that realistically could never happen?

I can confirm that no, it did not get silly. No, it did not go all sci-fi. And yes, I was able to suspend my disbelief around time travel, and Curtis’ associated rules about it, for long enough to become both totally absorbed and virtually unconsolable at the plot’s end.

Rules? Everyone who writes about time-travel has to have rules. In the TTW the time traveller always sheds his clothes when travelling through time; he arrives in the precise state he was in in the future; and he can’t control when or how the travelling takes place. Back to the Future has its own set – I’d explain them, but I’m not that much of a geek. For one to be able to suspend their disbelief, one needs a set of rules that outline the parameters within which this works – time travel doesn’t exist, but at least if there are rules, one can pretend it does. So, in About Time, the male line of one family find themselves able to travel back in time by standing in a dark place and clenching their fists. Once they start having children, they can’t go back to before the child was born otherwise it’s a different sense. Totally logical – and, in the case of the latter rule, it emerges to be totally heart-wrenching.

So, last Friday, I blissfully ignored the rules of physics and wholeheartedly submerged myself in a world in which men travel through time in order to pursue the loves of their lives. However, I snapped out of my other-world-ness when time-travel was required to return to a party taking place in Collingham Gardens, South Kensington…

London is the main character in most Curtis films and About Time is no exception. I love seeing places I recognise, and visit frequently – heck, I even wonder if I might appear completely by chance. (One major plot point in the film involves the unusual restaurant in which a friend had their birthday meal a couple of years ago – I feel like she was way ahead of the game.) You may have no idea where Collingham Gardens is – it’s a fairly typical Kensington terraced street, full of delightful and large white houses with balconies – but I do, because I go there at least once a week. In the middle of Collingham Gardens is a church, the very church into which my theological college moved this time last year. As soon as the name was uttered I gasped in surprise – much to my neighbours’ confusion. (A pair of teenage girls who were irritating throughout, I’m glad I startled them.) In case you think I’m a weirdo, I discovered on Monday that a friend from college did the exact same thing when she saw it the following day – we spent part of our lunch break trying to work out which building they’d used.

Here’s the thing, following their attendance at a party in the aforementioned street, the couple central to the plot then walk all the way to Maida Vale. I may walk huge distances in London, but all of a sudden my mind was pondering whether it was actually within the realms of reality to walk from Collingham Gardens to Maida Vale tube station. The main character had just travelled from the Tate Modern three weeks in the future in order to be at this party, but what did I have an issue with? A possibly unrealistic use of London geography!

It bothered me so much that after the film (and after the obligatory check for mascara that may have run down my cheeks while sobbing), I looked it up on Google maps. According to Google, the walk would take 1 hour 6 minutes, which in a romantic post-dinner, first date scenario is pretty believable.

Collingham Gardens to Maida Vale The beauty of this map is that you can also see the route I take home from Collingham Gardens. My 5 mile walk takes me along the A4 (Brompton Road & Piccadilly) and the A401 (Shaftesbury Ave) and takes me around 1 hour 30mins. It’s a joy.

Richard Curtis, I apologise. You know London (and probably Kensington) well enough not to include spurious or incorrect geographical references in your work. Thank you for making such a lovely, yet emotionally wrangling film. Next time, could you consider providing post-film counselling? It would be much appreciated.

Unrealistic Expectations

Sometime ago, I discovered that a number of friends had joined the amusingly titled facebook group: Disney gave me unrealistic expectations about love. Essentially, it’s for those who believe that ‘swapping your voice and family for legs is a good deal’…

As a realist, I don’t suffer from such delusions (i.e. I understand that I do not live in a cartoon world of fairy tales). However, it’s struck me that another film genre has given me unrealistic expectations about life in general – Richard Curtis movies…

Today I had several moments of what I like to call ‘The Notting Hill Effect’. I don’t know if it’s simply because I live in London, or because I’m a hopeless romantic, or because it’s getting colder, or that it’s getting near Christmas, but they seemed to come at me from all angles.

It’s those moments of a sudden flash of realisation that this specific moment in time would be marvellously accompanied by a musical score – like crossing The Blue (Bermondsey’s answer to Walford market) this morning and seeing the stalls becoming Christmassy, entirely reminiscent of the time lapse scene in Notting Hill. Or this evening, walking home along the river, with the lights twinkling on Tower Bridge – a scene that could have been straight out of Love, Actually.

Because do you know what that fool of a director has done to me? He’s made me expect that the stuff of his films should happen in real life. That I should live in an idyllic mews house in Hampstead, with a fabulously gorgeous husband, with whom I’d walk hand-in-hand with on the Heath; that my travels round town should be accompanied by a string-heavy orchestral score; that it should snow every winter; that I should have fabulous dinner parties with equally fabulous guests…I could go on, but I think you get the picture!

I’m sure you do it too though. Who hasn’t emulated the fabulous excited dance Sarah executes when finally bagging her long-term office crush in Love, Actually? Oh no, wait, that would be just me again, wouldn’t it?

It’s lucky that I’m a realist (or rather, as I like to term it, a pessimistic optimist), else I’d be constantly disappointed with life. As it is, I’ve learned to laugh at these moments of ridiculousness and only indulge them on the sofa, in front of one of the films…