Love actually was released in November 2003 and made more than thirty-six million in the UK alone. Love actually follows multiple relationships in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It was written and directed by Richard Kurtis, who also was the creator of Notting Hill and Four weddings and a funeral. As these two films are already highly successful romantic comedies it means Love Actually will have a guaranteed audience. However the audience will have certain expectations from the film, as they would with any film of the same genre. In this essay I intend to discuss the expectations that are created within the first ten minutes and explore how the film fulfils and subverts them.
The film has many famous actors, most of whom are associated with a role in a romantic comedy. The most well known actor is Hugh Grant, who is known for his role Notting Hill as well as many others. Again this would guarantee the film a large audience as the fans of Hugh Grant would come and watch the film, as they would expect him to play a familiar role. That they liked from previous romantic comedy films. If he was to shock the audience and play a character that he is not usually associated with it may result in the film not becoming a success. The audience would respond very differently to the film if there expectations of Hugh Grant’s character were found to be wrong. Therefore his character is very conventional and is what the audience would expect and want to see in the film. His Role in Love Actually fulfils their expectations.
There are several things in the film that it is certain the audience will like, purely because they have done in previous films. Rowan Atkinson, for example, although his character is very small it provides the audience with a great deal of comedy. The producers knew that casting him as that part would get the greatest response as in previous films he has brought a lot of comedy to the role, by the way in which it was played. Another part of the film that is similar is when Colin Firth dives into the lake to retrieve his papers. When he was in Pride and Prejudice, the particular scene where he went into the lake became very famous and an instant success with women. This could be why the producers have placed an almost identical scene in love actually. As it is highly likely that women will have the same response that they did from seeing him in pride and prejudice.
The film begins with a voice over, the recognizable voice of Hugh Grant. On screen there are images of people getting off a plane and being reunited with the people they love.
Over this Hugh Grant says;
Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world. I fink of the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport. The general opinion is starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. Seems to me that love is everywhere. Often its not very dignified or particularly newsworthy but it always there, fathers and sons, mothers and daughter, husbands and wife’s, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the twin towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on boards were messages of hate or revenge they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a feeling you’ll see that love actually is all around.
This could be seen as a very unusual start to a film. What he is saying is reminding the audience that there are people you love, and people who love you. This is making the audience feel good about themselves. Which is very unusual as this is what would usually happen at the end of the film. This is one convention of a romantic comedy, and one reason the genre is popular with audiences. As it makes them feel good. As a result this voice over could be subverting the audiences expectations of the romantic comedy genre, as they are made to feel good, right at the start of the film.
The first characters the audience are introduced to are Bill and his manager, who are recording a new Christmas song. The song is “love is all around us”, in which they are replacing the word love for Christmas. The audience are introduced to the fact that it is Christmas, which is usually seen a season of love. As it is a time that people spend with loved ones. It also creates the expectation that Bill’s humorous version of the song will get to number one, and be heard throughout the film. Romantic songs are a common convention for the romantic comedy genre, as they re-enforce the element of love, or the lack of it, throughout the narrative. The film was released at cinemas around Christmas time which meant that the audience could feel more involved in the events and become more emotionally attached to characters.
In the opening ten minutes the audience are introduced owing many different storylines and characters. This keeps the audiences interest as they create expectations about who will end up with whom and which of these plots will overlap with each other. Many of the answers are unknown right until the very end as the new things are revealed when the film switches from one story to the next. An example of this is the characters Mark, Peter and Juliet. In the second time the audience see Mark, he is asked “you love him, don’t you”. Immediately making it so, throughout the film the audience believe mark is in love with Peter. It is not until later in the film that the audience discover their expectations were wrong. When it is revealed that it is Juliet he loves the audience and shocked that what they thought would happen didn’t. This sudden twist in the plot keeps the audience engaged in the film as they want to know what other of their original expectations will be subverted.
It could be seen as very unconventional with Peter, Juliet and Mark. As the happy ever after wedding appears at the start of the film, before the audience become emotionally connected with the characters. However it could make the audience create assumptions about how their relationship is not going to work, or at least there will be things that get in the way. This prediction is correct as Juliet discovers that Mark is in love with her. This may be very satisfying for the audience when they realise that their early predictions were in fact correct. Although they didn’t know exactly what would happen they still were aware that a complication would arise.
The next character that the audience are introduced to is Jamie Bennett. He is seen telling his wife how much he loves her and how sad he is that she is ill. After a cut to another story, these two characters are shown again. Jamie has come back to check on his wife and finds out that she is sleeping with his brother. This is the disequilibrium in one of the many stories the audience are following. This is already pre-expected as it is a generic convention. The audience are aware that they will see break ups and either that they get back together or move on and find real love.
The audience are then introduced to another story, in which they will recognise the basic plot and can predict the outcome. It is the Prime Minister and Natalie’s relationship that follows a very conventional plot. Girl meets a boy who she knows she can’t have as they live completely different lives, yet through their differences they end up together in the end. The two characters are happily together at the end, which is predicted by the audience from the opening of the film. This is another example of where audience’s expectations have been fulfilled. Even though their story is very predictable it is unusual for the audience to watch a relationship that involves the prime minister. This narrative twist is what keeps the romantic-comedy genre interesting, and makes the audience interested in the character lives.
Love Actually uses many of the generic codes and conventions found in a romantic-comedy. However the film has multiple storylines, whereas a usual film of this genre just has one main romantic plot running throughout the film. This could be one of the reasons for the films success. As it was a new and original twist on the traditional narrative. The audience enjoyed viewing something new, and kept the romantic-comedy genre exciting and unpredictable.