In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the love lives of several people living in London intertwine
After penning two of the biggest British films of recent years - Four Weddings And A Funeral and Notting Hill - it's only natural that Richard Curtis should expand his film career into direction.
There is plenty to like about the film. Grant, for example, makes for an endearing Prime Minister (even if he seems to spend more time trying to woo Martine McCutcheon than actually engaging in politics). Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson are a pleasure to watch, while Bill Nighy almost steals the entire film as a foul-mouthed, drug-addled rocker (his confrontation with a poster of Blue on an Ant-and-Dec-hosted TV show is worth the admission alone).
Other comic highlights see Grant indulging in one of the best bits of hallway dancing since Risky Business, and Firth virtually recreating his most famous Mr. Darcy moment by diving fully-clothed into a lake. And Curtis even throws in a few self-referential nods to his earlier work, including Nighy's character re-recording Love Is All Around complete with cringeworthy Yuletide theme.
However, this is a complex, densely-plotted affair, and in trying to tell the individual stories of so many people, you get the sense that Curtis has bitten off more than he can chew. He seems comfortable enough behind the camera - it's a well-made, good-looking film enlivened by frequent picture-postcard shots of London - but too many of the stories themselves are left wanting.
One, featuring Kris Marshall heading for Wisconsin, in search of rampant sex, goes nowhere, while a potentially interesting subplot involving Laura Linney's magazine worker and her mentally ill brother seems to be forgotten halfway through and ultimately is never resolved. While there's no denying Curtis' ambition, paring down some of the tales would have made the more interesting ones even stronger. The final reel also disappoints, combining a bunch of seen-it-all-before set-pieces with an unpleasantly manipulative finale.
The latter isn't helped by wildly over-the-top orchestral music that wouldn't sound out of place in an epic war movie, and a sense that the audience is being quite literally ordered to laugh and cry at key moments. Given that there is a really good film at the core of Love Actually, it's a pity that such aspects let it down.
Curtis is a rare talent (let us not forget he wrote Blackadder), and it would have been great to see him tackling something a little more challenging and different for his directorial debut. That said, it's a formula that works and, as crowd-pleasing mainstream Britcom goes, it's a relatively solid, if flawed, entry into the genre.
Overlong and over-sentimental, this is nonetheless a fairly entertaining way to spend a couple of hours, and its great to see so many of the UKs best actors sharing screen space. While never quite scaling the heights of <b>Four Weddings</b> or <b>Nottin