Joanna Cunningham analyses how the actors in Christmas classic Love Actually were dressed in order to distinguish their characters
Love Actually (2003) has to be one of my favourite Christmas films. With an all-star British cast and an absolutely cracking soundtrack, who wouldn’t love this festive masterpiece? Filled with all types of love – unrequited love, unconditional love, first love, mutual love, familial love, lost love, friendship love, and more – we can all empathise with a number of the situations which play out. This makes it all the more watchable, and an emotional rollercoaster for anyone. With its top single, Christmas Is All Around, the obscenely British swear words, and a sneaky appearance from Ant and Dec, this has to be the most British film out there.
One element of this film, which is perhaps less noticeable, is the ways in which the characters are portrayed through their clothes. Of course, on the surface, they are simply wearing the typical clothes of the late 90s and early 00s, but when we look deeper, there are a number of ways the fashion fundamentally develops the story.
Mark (Andrew Lincoln)
When we think of Andrew Lincoln now, most of us will picture his grubby, bearded face, with a Texan accent and a flannel shirt and jeans in The Walking Dead. In Love Actually, however, we see a pared back version of this character, with a meltingly smooth English accent, and a clean-shaven face. This characterises him as innocent and vulnerable, and when we discover his secret love for his best friend’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wife, Juliet, we can see why.
The first time we see Mark, he wears almost the exact same outfit as Peter, his best friend. They both wear suits at Peter and Juliet’s wedding, with Peter wearing a red shirt and tie, and Mark wearing a purple shirt and tie. Their similar clothes could represent their matching love for Juliet, but Peter’s red clothes may symbolise that he has her heart. In comparison, the dark purple of Mark’s shirt could suggest the darkness in his heart in not being able to have Juliet for himself.
Otherwise, when Juliet discovers his love for her, we see a completely different outfit on Mark. In this scene, he wears a turtle neck, threequarter zip sweater, with a patchwork design. This could highlight his confusion, and the division within him; he must decide whether to tell Juliet he loves her, thinking of his best friend’s feelings at all times.
Juliet (Kiera Knightley)
Keira Knightley is that celebrity women love to hate; naturally beautiful, skinny, tall – everything the media tells women they ought to be. However, I’ve always admired her, ever since I was a young child watching Pirates of the Caribbean. When I was growing up, I was always very self-conscious at the fact I had a small chest. She was the women who taught me that this was nothing to be ashamed of, and that women with small chests could look as glamorous and womanly as those with larger chests! It sounds silly, but she gave me body confidence during that rough stage of puberty we all remember.
Knightley’s character in Love Actually is that classic girl nextdoor. She’s charismatic and lovely and is evangelised by our first impression of her; madly in love, in a traditional white wedding dress, with a natural face, and her hair loosely up, surrounding her face in tendrils.
Later on, when she visits Mark to watch his wedding video, she wears a blue baker-boy hat, which is the exact same colour as one of the stripes on Mark’s jumper. This might represent how, by watching the video and discovering Mark loves her, she now knows more about him, and has discovered a piece of him she never knew.
Finally, when she opens the door to Mark, her hair is worn down, and she is wearing an off-the-shoulder, white jumper. This harks back to her first appearance in a white wedding dress but, this time, she is more vulnerable; at home, with her shoulders exposed. This could show how Mark has broken down some of her barriers through his confession of love, showing she now sees him in a new light. Moreover, the white she wears contrasts with Mark’s black coat, perhaps highlighting how they juxtapose one another, and can never be together.
Karen (Emma Thompson)
Emma Thompson’s story has to be the saddest of them all. When her husband, Harry, played by Alan Rickman, secretly buys another woman, Mia, a gold necklace for Christmas, she breaks down. The most amazing part about Karen is her consistent ability to put on a brave face for her children, making her possibly the most relatable character in the film, especially for any mothers out there.
Generally, her outfits are loose fitting and dowdy, with a lot of knitwear and big coats and scarves. Apparently, she was also wearing a fat-suit to make her seem less desirable! She wears a lot of autumnal colours, like orange and burgundy, in comparison to Mia, who wears reds, whites and blacks – all the Christmassy colours. Perhaps this is representative of Karen being “out of season”, in contrast to Mia, who personifies the newcomings of Christmas.
Mia (Heike Makatsch)
Indeed, when we survey Mia’s clothes, she is the total opposite of Karen. Her stylish haircut, exotic accent, and tight-fitting clothes contrast entirely with Karen’s British accent and typically un-sexy outfits. Furthermore, as we have noted before, Mia represents everything that is “in” during this season, hence Harry’s enticement towards her. Her devil costume during the work Christmas party they attend is just the cherry on top of the cake, proleptic of her causing a riff in Karen and Harry’s relationship.
Harry (Alan Rickman)
In comparison to Mia, Harry is also completely unremarkable. His character wears boring clothes, with dark colours like black and brown; he’s basically insignificant. Other than his relatively cool glasses, there is literally nothing redeeming about him. It makes us question why Mia fancies him so much – maybe she’s a home-wrecker who knows Harry is married and wants to break them apart? Or maybe she represents the epitome of desperation; she wants to feel wanted by a man she is guaranteed to see every day at work. In fact, when we finally see Mia’s house, she is all alone in her bedroom, which certainly makes the audience question her intentions. Maybe she was just lonely at Christmas? Or maybe she represents a message to women to value themselves enough to enjoy their independence.
David (Hugh Grant)
David, played by the legend that is Hugh Grant, is the Prime Minister in Love Actually. He is plagued by love-at-first-sight when he sees his assistant, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) for the first time. He is shown wearing suits and ties throughout the entire film, until the very end. This is when he receives a Christmas card from Natalie, wherein she declares her love for him, and he searches the streets of London to find her. In this scene, his tie is no longer worn, and his shirt is loose, showing he is finally free when he follows his heart.
Daniel (Liam Neeson)
Liam Neeson, known for his classic Irish accent, continues his everbrooding nature in his 2003 character, Daniel. Daniel is a very simple character, who constantly wears dark coloured clothes. This represents his brooding nature, and when we remember his wife has passed away, it becomes clearer why he is characterised this way. Indeed, like Queen Victoria after King Albert’s death, he remains in mourning throughout the entire film.
Colin Frissell (Kris Marshall)
Colin is the most immature character in the entire film. Constantly on the mission to “shag”, he is rejected left, right and centre by the women he attempts to chat up. Therefore, he makes the decision to take a trip to America to explore the opportunities out there.
His clothing represents this childish nature within him. He wears layered clothes, like a teenage boy, such as hoodies, worded t-shirts, and loose-fitting trousers. His hair is also messy and un-styled, making him seem unkempt and messy, much like his character.
Billy Mack (Bill Nighy)
Finally, Billy Mack, the UK Number One artist in Love Actually, has a very poignant fashion sense also. His character constantly wears bright colours, floating garments, and rock-star wear, much like the mods, rockers and hippies of the 60s. Harking back to this decade, his free spirit is definitely represented through his clothing. Indeed, not only does he make a fool of himself constantly on national television, but he swears all the time, showing he cares little about what others think of him.
His clothes also make us question the obscure ending left between himself and his manager. Of course, we assume that their relationship is simply one of close friends, but the lack of homosexual characters within this film makes us wonder whether Mack and his manager are declaring their secret love towards one another. If this is the case, Mack’s clothes definitely portray this through the 60s vibes; a time of free love and sexual expression.
After Love Actually…
Although you wouldn’t initially see Love Actually as an artistic film masterpiece, you can certainly see the clever ways in which the film makers perhaps attempted to characterise their actors via fashion. Indeed, it makes us question our opinions of these characters, allowing us to look deeper into their stories. The most prominent item of clothing throughout the entire film has to be the turtleneck jumper. This is worn countless times throughout Love Actually and is one of the main items of clothing we see today.
In fact, a fair majority of the clothes in the movie have cycled back to now, including Knightley’s baker-boy hat, Alan Rickman’s stylish glasses, Mia’s devil costume, and the typical double-breasted lapel coat worn by almost every character. The film may not be an artistic masterpiece, but it is certainly a winner for any festive night-in.
You can keep up to date with Joanna’s work on her blog, itstartedwithrebecca.wordpress.com, or follow @itstartedwithrebecca on Instagram, and @iswrebecca on Twitter. All images via YouTube