Erik Helmerson is an author and editorial writer at Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, and was previously a film critic for service agency TT Spektra. In light of Obama’s visit to Sweden, he writes about a film where both love and world politics look better than in reality. Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003).
Journalists smarter than me have called it a “Love Actually moment”. The point at which a country straightens its back, cracks its knuckles and hardens its tone – clearly indicating a shift in relations with a foreign great power.
It’s pretty easy to see where the expression comes from. The romantic comedy Love Actually was released in the run-up to Christmas 2003 and was, if you will, the final part in a trilogy that established a previously unknown truth: any love is incomplete if it doesn’t have a link to some specific part of London, if it doesn’t have the slightest whiff of fish and chips.
I am deeply jealous of anyone who fell in love to one of screenwriter Richard Curtis’s films Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill or Love Actually. The latter is not the best of them – in fact you could argue it’s the worst – but it is the film in which Curtis finally lets go of the brakes, opens the floodgates and makes it known that when it comes to pain and affairs of the heart, ‘more is more’ is the key. But enough about love.
Love Actually’s “Love Actually moment” comes when the British Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) has had enough of the US President (Billy Bob Thornton) being suspicious of his sweetheart during a state visit. His revenge – surely the dream of any jealous person! – comes at a press conference in front of half the world’s cameras. “I fear that this has become a bad relationship; a relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to, erm… Britain. We may be a small country, but we’re a great one too,” says Grant’s character, and as the strings build to a crescendo he lists all the things that have made the country great (including Harry Potter).
“A friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward I will be prepared to be much stronger,” he concludes – and this is where any foreign ministers in the cinema sigh delightedly along with the British journalists on the screen. Someone who dared to say that to the USA! Someone who dared to stand up for the rights of the weak!
Barack Obama is not likely to encounter any “Love Actually moments”, either in Sweden or pretty much anywhere else. This is probably not primarily due to his ability to keep his hands off of various foreign political assistants; it has more to do with the fact that everything was a bit better in those three Richard Curtis films than they are in reality. Love especially, but also world politics.
Photo: Hanne Kjöller
Films mentioned in this post:
Love Actually, Richard Curtis, 2003 (IMDb)
Trailer Love Actually:
Erik Helmerson on Twitter: