If you are stuck for love this Valentine’s weekend, fear not. Richard Curtis has taught us the ways.
Richard Curtis. That British household name that has led to you accidentally watching the sex scene in Love Actually with your Nan. Or tearing up a bit because the funeral poem in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) was a knife in the heart even though you weren’t in love with anyone. Or laughing when Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver did a fight dance in Bridget Jones (2001) that was hilariously unremarkable and probably how you’d fight if it came to it.
His success, ultimately, has been down to making movies that champion stories that people can relate to. The light-hearted humour, and the endearing qualities of its characters has led to millions of fans falling in love with, what essentially is, the common British person. Ignore the reviews.
Having previously written the now-classic Black-Adder and Mr Bean series, Curtis redirected himself into the romantic comedy scene in the mid-1990s with Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Notting Hill (1999). These movies, both of which starred the doey-eyed floppy-haired Hugh Grant, along with a gorgeous white-toothed American love interests (Andie MacDowell and Julia Roberts respectively) propelled Curtis into the British rom-com spotlight with their success. Four Weddings was made in six weeks with £3 million, and became the highest-grossing British movie ever, at the time it was made. It also eventually topped the international box office when it went to wide release. Critical reviews were generally very positive, with Roger Ebert noting its ‘delightful and sly’ qualities and the ‘endearing awkwardness’ of Hugh Grant. It won 4 BAFTA Awards including Best Film and Best Actor (Hugh Grant) and was nominated for 2 Academy Awards (Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.) Notting Hill also had a fair element of success, becoming the highest grossing British film released in 1999. Sue Pierman of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stated that “Notting Hill is clever, funny, romantic – and oh, yes, reminiscent of Four Weddings and a Funeral“, but that the film “is so satisfying, it doesn’t pay to nitpick.’ These two movies have become ultimate classics when you’re looking for an easy movie to watch, and the lovely fuzzy quality from movie productions of the 1990s leaves you with a warm, comfortable contentedness as the end credits roll.
Moving into the new century, Curtis spearheaded the efforts behind Bridget Jones (2001 & 2004), Love Actually (2003) and, after an interlude working on the Vicar of Dibley, The Boat That Rocked (2009) and War Horse (2011), About Time (2013) became his latest triumph of British cinema.
Bridget Jones is the ultimate movie to watch for women feeling low about Valentine’s Day. The story, based on the novel by Sharon Maguire, is a reinterpretation of Pride and Prejudice, and was successful to the point that Zellweger was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, as well as the ever coveted MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss (with Colin Firth.) And there is also serious reason to note the ultimate female power soundtrack that went along with the first movie. Some seriously cracking tracks.
Love Actually was, actually, Richard Curtis’ directorial debut, having also written the screenplay. One could argue that this movie is more part of the British identity than any of Curtis’ previous endeavours, having been released at Christmas and including the now popular structure of multiple intertwining story lines, all exploring the various elements of what makes up love. Interestingly, whilst this movie became a prime Christmas movie for the British public, it received determinedly mixed reviews in the United States, with the main complaint from American critiques stating the numerous plots as being too difficult to follow. Peter Travers said in Rolling Stone, “there are laughs laced with feeling here, but the deft screenwriter Richard Curtis dilutes the impact by tossing in more and more stories. As a director… Curtis can’t seem to rein in his writer… He ladles sugar over the eager-to-please Love Actually to make it go down easy, forgetting that sometimes it just makes you gag.”
Personally, I think they’re being difficult. The movie exemplified everything that love is, and Hugh Grant in particular had amazing bookend speeches at the beginning/end of the movie about love in airports, which is honestly one of my favourite parts of travelling. If anyone didn’t fall in love with one of the storylines, I’d eat my hat. The variation in story, and the connections between families, colleagues, friends and lovers was so endearing. In fact the number of stories adds to its impact, in my opinion, contrary to many critics reviews. Also, again, cracking soundtrack.
The structure worked well enough to be copied by Hollywood at any rate, although to nowhere near the emotional engagement of Love, Actually. Valentine’s Day (2010) and New Years Eve (2011) were both similar plot concepts, but had nowhere near the gravitas that Love, Actually did. It lacked a balance of big and not-so-big names, and the common-people-plot line. Unfortunately Hollywood seems to think that all-star casts with non-relatable plotlines are the way to go, which, shamefully, goes down rather well at the box office.
About Time (2013) is Richard Curtis’ last rom-com to date, and in my opinion took a dive in impact, much to the consternation of everyone I tell this to. Whilst the storyline moved into the world of magic realism a little, I felt like this ability to travel in time left the film lacking in a plot that actually ended with a climactic finish. Again, an American love interest (Rachel McAdams) stars, with Leslie Felperin of Variety magazine labelling the film “reassuringly bland” and another reminder of the Time Travellers Wife also starring McAdams. I’d have to say I agree to a certain extent – it was rather underwhelming. There were also a number of plot holes, which I will allow you to search independently if you’re interested. I would have to rate the soundtrack though – and soundtracks can make the difference between an average to good movie. Fun fact: the movie became a hit in South Korea, grossing the highest figure of all countries worldwide.
Richard Curtis has been behind a number of some of the greatest British feel-good movies over the last two decades, and despite some negative responses from critics, I know I’ll be picking one of his movies this Valentine’s weekend.