Love Actually: Ranking Every Storyline By Romanticness

It’s still one of the best-loved Christmas films, but which of the Love Actually romances gives us the biggest dose of wintry warm-fuzzies?

Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln in Love Actually
Photo: Love Actually

Ah, Love Actually. It’s the convoluted Christmas movie of choice for many of us year after year, and we love it despite its many flaws, which have only grown in number as we’ve become more aware of things like the Bechdel test, how unfunny fat jokes are and that not all relationships are between heterosexual white people. 

As romcoms go, Love Actually is certainly ambitious, telling nine different stories over the course of two hours, which makes it even more unbelievable that Richard Curtis originally wanted there to be a whopping fourteen storylines. 

The ones that made the cut range from the slightly icky to full-blown swoon fests, so let’s rank them to find out which is the most romantic Love Actually storyline:

9. Harry, Karen and Mia

There is no romance here at all. Not in the way Harry (Alan Rickman) takes his brilliant wife Karen (Emma Thompson) for granted and throws their marriage down the toilet for a brief fling, resulting in one of the most tear-jerking moments in romcom history, as Karen has to hide her heartbreak from her children while listening to Joni Mitchell. There’s not even a whiff of romance in the fleeting off-screen affair between him and Mia (Heike Makatsch), who seems to seduce Harry just for lols rather than any real romantic attraction. And that necklace he buys her is bloody awful. 

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8. Colin, Tony and the American Girls

Yeah, this one’s an easy ‘big yikes’, so let’s not dwell on it for long. Much to the horror of his friend Tony (Abdul Salis), a determined Colin (Kris Marshall) decides his bad luck in the romance department is because English women are ‘too stuck up’ and plans to go to America to find The One (or at least the one who will sleep with him). 

As soon as he arrives Stateside, we witness what can only be described as a soft porn fantasy, as he visits a bar and not one but four girls instantly fall for his British charms and invite him back to share their one bed (in which, of course, they sleep in naked because they ‘can’t afford pyjamas’). 

If it weren’t for the fact he returns with two of his conquests in the airport scene at the end of the film, we could probably be convinced Colin’s plane crashed before reaching America, and this ridiculous, objectifying scene was just a sad delusion his brain conjured in his dying moments. It’s not romance, it’s just shagging.

7. Billy Mack and Joe

Love Actually’s ‘odd couple’ award goes to these two. Lovable sleazeball and rock hasbeen Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) and his manager Joe (Gregor Fisher) spend most of the film being outrageously bad at promoting an outrageously bad Christmas single, ‘Christmas is All Around’. Against the odds, they manage to make the song Christmas number one, before realising at the end of the film that there’s no one else they’d rather spend Christmas with. Despite some questionably tasteless jokes and demeaning comments about women which can stay in 2003, Billy’s declaration of his own kind of love for Joe is quite courageous, and certainly entertaining, just not very romantic.

6. Juliet, Peter and Mark

Looking back, it’s hard to believe we ever found this storyline romantic, but we did. Mark (Andrew Lincoln) deals with his hidden love for his best friend’s new wife Juliet (Keira Knightly) by being a total knobhead to her (red flag), yet still decides to spend the entire wedding day filming obsessive close-ups of her as the unofficial wedding videographer (double red flag), and then bombards her with those infamous cringey cue cards declaring his undying love until she pity-kisses him (ALL the red flags). Despite the lowkey vibe that Mark might be a bit of a stalker, the cue cards are the film’s most memorable romantic gesture, and if we look past the problematic stuff his unrequited love still gives us bittersweet feels.

5. Sarah, Karl and Michael

A superb performance by Laura Linney, Sarah’s two years of obvious pining after her colleague Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) is sweetly, comically romantic, and it’s deeply satisfying to see her finally get her man at the office Christmas party. The unfortunate timing of her vulnerable brother Michael’s phone call, which derails Sarah and Karl’s romance just as they were ripping each others’ clothes off, only adds to the sexual tension. But the problem is not Michael, it’s Karl: not only does he let his manhood do the talking and suggest she ignores her brother’s call, despite Sarah opening up to Karl about his illness, he doesn’t even attempt to persevere with the relationship, seemingly unable to cope with her putting her brother’s needs first. The scene between Sarah and Michael in the mental health facility is one of the film’s most poignant, enduring moments, but it seems Karl is just a disappointing f***boy.

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4. David and Natalie

This has all the makings of a classic romcom. David the sexy, slightly awkward Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) needs a gutsy, down-to-earth woman like his new assistant Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) to keep him on his toes, and the chemistry between them is dreamy. But the whole ‘President coming onto her’ thing simply doesn’t stand the test of time: these days, it’s obvious the President’s presumptuous forwardness is creepy at best, and David should have lamped him one instead of sulking about it. And yet, this storyline is still one of the film’s best, providing us with iconic moments like the Prime Minister going carol singing door-to-door to find Natalie’s house, and he and Natalie proclaiming their love for each other in a car with a child in an octopus costume sat between them.

3. Daniel, Sam and Joanna

You can’t be mad at this storyline. The adorable Sam’s (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) crush on his classmate Joanna (Olivia Olson) comes at just the right time, giving him and his dad Daniel (Liam Neeson) something to distract them from their grief after Sam’s mum dies. Yes, Sam probably would have had more success with Joanna if he’d just talked to her instead of learning to play the drums to impress her at the school nativity play, but then we wouldn’t have had that terrifically dramatic ‘running through the airport’ scene as he rushes to tell her how he feels, and the truly excellent line ‘Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.’

2. John and Judy

You might think the magic would be lost in a romance between two people who met while dry humping each other in front of an entire film crew, but body doubles John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) are still delightfully giddy around each other. Their fledgling relationship is pure and unproblematic: they complement each other with ease, John doesn’t try to presumptuously invite himself in when he walks Judy home, and the little fist pump and ‘hooray’ he does when Judy agrees to their first date is adorable.

1. Jamie and Aurelia

This simply had to top the Love Actually romance charts. Poor Jamie (Colin Firth) walks in on his wife having an affair with his brother, and flees to his cottage in France, where his broken heart is quickly mended thanks to his lovely Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz), despite neither speaking a word of each other’s native language. If you don’t get butterflies when Jamie drives Aurelia home and confesses ‘It’s my favourite time of day, driving you’, after which Aurelia confesses in Portuguese ‘It’s the saddest part of my day, leaving you’, then you are clearly dead inside. That moment, plus Jamie’s very funny, silly proposal in not-always-accurate Portuguese, make this Love Actually’s biggest romantic triumph.

Love Actually is available to stream on Amazon Prime, among other places