I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes; political comparisons are all around me and so the anti-American feeling grows. Hugh Grant is not the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, but he played one in the movies once. Love Actually is a compilation of different avenues of love during Christmas time. A wholly fictional story, however, comparable to real life problems. In 2003, a time when ‘Stacy’s Mom’ was the hottest mom around, we were crying over the last episode of Buffy, and trying to get our parents to buy us The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Love Actually was released. Tony Blair had been re-elected for a second term only two years earlier and the Americans, led by George W. Bush, were off invading foreign lands.
Hugh Grant portrays the proper and romantically handicapped British Prime Minister and Billy Bob Thornton plays his American partner, an aggressive and phallocratic ‘Bill Clinton/George W. Bush hybrid’. Despite being allies, the US has always approached their relationship with the UK in a very aggressive manner, they take a lot and don’t give much back and because of this the UK government has come under a great deal of pressure from the public to take a more assertive role in the relationship. In 2009, during President Barack Obama’s first visit to the UK; Chris Matthews, a prominent American political commentator, referred to the president in Love Actually as an example of George W. Bush and other former presidents’ bullying of European allies. The relationship between these two characters is seen by the British population and others as the way that Blair should have dealt with the imposing military giant.
The UK and the US had always had a ‘special relationship’. Blair’s recent military failings and lack of back-bone and unbridled support for Bush’s foreign policy caught a lot of flak from the UK population, and was even less popular within his own cabinet: 139 of 167 of Blair’s MPs opposed it. Blair’s own Director of Communications and Strategy, Alistair Campbell, is quoted on national radio as saying that Blair’s understanding of the situation in Iraq relating to WMD and other US intelligence was mediocre at best and was heavily criticised for accepting what the US said without further investigation. An incident comparable to a scene in Love Actually where a radio presenter asks whether the ‘new Prime Minister is in trouble already.’
The film shows Grant to be a Prime Minister perceived as a refreshing start to ‘fix the country’, his term coming after years of harsh realities and a difficult household from the previous government. To some, this was a reflection of the turmoil of the Thatcher/Major years from 1979-1997, this particular period of English political history was very turbulent and full of riots and uncivil protest. Grant’s character, often shown out of his depth yet holding it together, fortifies his political ideals through a thrilling and feisty speech in the presence of ‘President Thornton’. The speech was an amusing and patriotic stance against the influence of the President and what he represents. Grant references the greatness of Britain, invoking cultural icons such as Shakespeare, The Beatles, Sean Connery… and David Beckham’s right foot. The speech hit home with not only the film’s viewers but also resonated heavily with the British people.
In the real world, foreign policy decisions are always based on harsh realities, not wishful thinking. Blair actually made reference to the movie in a 2005 speech. ‘I know there’s a bit of us that would like me to do a Hugh Grant in Love Actually and tell America where to get off,’ Blair said. ‘But the difference between a good film and real life is that in real life there’s the next day, the next year, the next lifetime to contemplate the ruinous consequences of easy applause.’
Grant’s speech resonated so clearly with the British people that it was also later referenced by the current Prime Minister, David Cameron, when making a reply speech to Russia’s comments that Britain was a ‘small island no one listens to’ when tensions surrounding the Syrian crisis boiled over at a G20 summit in St Petersburg in 2013. Cameron responds to Russia by saying that he doesn’t accept those remarks for a moment and goes on further to say that Britain remains small but great and significant in world affairs, a response that mirrored Grant’s response to the US President in the film.
As the casualties of the Iraq War mounted, Blair was accused of misleading Parliament and his popularity dropped dramatically. After the resignation of Blair, pundits and speculators referred to the anti-American shift in Gordon Brown’s cabinet as a ‘Love Actually moment’, referring to the scene in which Grant stands up to the American president.
The UK government has relied on the speech given by Grant in Love Actually a lot for just a speech in a movie. It’s a move that has demonstrated how closely the speech resonated with the UK population and how much they looked to Love Actually and yearned for the political action that Grant exacted. The film saw people living out their political fantasies vicariously through the characters. All that is left to ask after this is why Blair and later Prime Ministers did not take this to heart and why the UK continues to be the forever yielding puppy at the feet of America’s military might.
Words by Hannah Beadle