Can a film be evil?

I’m not talking about cursed films. We’ve all heard tales of cursed films, usually films of a supernatural bent, The Exorcist, The Omen, Poltergeist, films where cast and crew members died inexplicably either during filming or immediately after release.  It’s all bollocks though. Take a film like The Exorcist. Dozens of people, cast and crew, worked on that film, each of them with friends, family, acquaintances, dogs, cats…that’s a village. Hundreds of people. And over the course of a 200-day shoot, well, shit happens. Couples get together and fall in love, babies are born, somebody’s gonna die. It’s inevitable.

So when Max Von Sydow’s brother dies during the shoot, that’s not a curse, that’s not Satan up to no good. It’s just life. Similarly, when Heather O’Rourke, creepy child star of the Poltergeist films, died six years and three films into the series, it was the combination of septic shock and a heart attack brought on by a misdiagnosed intestinal stenosis that killed her, not the fact that vengeful evil forces were unleashed when real skeletons were used as props on the first flick. And when 90-odd folk got cancer out of a cast and crew of around 200 on 1956’s John Wayne-starring Genghis Khan movie The Conqueror, it had more to do with shooting on the site of a nuclear bomb test site thanotherworldly intervention. It was stupid, it was negligent, but it wasn’t evil.

How about DW Griffith’s 1915 Ku Klux Klan Klarion Kall The Birth Of A Nation or Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 Triumph Of The Will, perhaps the greatest piece of propaganda cinema ever made? Both are hugely influential in terms of style and narrative. Both are reprehensible, even viewed through the prism of history, the talented Riefenstahl and Griffith’s undeniable gifts perverted in the service of morally bankrupt ideologies. But are the films themselves evil? Arguably, yes. But was that the intention? Griffith it could be argued was a product of his time, the Kentucky-born son of a Confederate colonel, while Riefenstahl, mesmerised by the aesthetics of Nazism, claimed political naiveté and ignorance of the Holocaust. They didn’t set out to make work, to make art, that would be infamous. No one sets out to do evil, do they?

Except Richard Curtis.

From the floppy-haired, entitled toffs of Four Weddings And A Funeral to the, well, slightly less floppy-haired, entitled toffs of time-travelling date rape fantasy About Time, Curtis has been solely responsible for the perpetuation of a vision of upper class English toxic masculinity masquerading as genial romantic comedy that’s frankly terrifying.

His heroes, and they’re all heroes – no heroines in Curtis’ Albion, are a ragbag collection of red-trouser brigade sociopaths, the Suicide Squad in corduroy and flannel, who use and abuse the woman around them for their own gratification. Perhaps the purest distillation of his vision, a film that has arguably usurped The Snowman, Die Hard and It’s A Wonderful Life as the UK’s favourite Christmas film, is the syrupy Love Actually, a repellent ode to misogyny where every male character is a creep or a stalker or both and all the women (with the exception of Martine McCutcheon’s Cockernee Sparra – the only English working class character in the film) are insipid doormats, robbed of all agency.

Despite being the Prime Minister, Hugh Grant obsesses over secretary Martine McCutcheon, his possessiveness potentially jeopardises the UK’s alliance with the USA and coldly manipulates her by shunting her into another job (harming her career?) before stalking her at Christmas and taking advantage of her at a school Nativity play; a clear case of sexual harassment. Colin Firth doesn’t allow his lack of a shared language to impede his stalking of his pretty Portuguese housekeeper. And right there might be the lesson of Love Actually – women are more lovable when they shut up!

The Sheriff from The Walking Dead meanwhile creepily videotapes and stalks Keira Knightley despite her being married to his mate. Widower Liam Neeson encourages his step-son, that weird kid from Game Of Thrones, to cause a security alert at a major airport, AT CHRISTMAS, in pursuit of the object of his affections who’s in danger of escaping to America. Actually, this may just be a cunning ploy to kill off his troublesome step-son and allow him to fire into Claudia Schiffer who turns up at a school play SIMPLY TO GIVE NEESON THE COME ON! And then there’s the sub-plot involving that weird guy that groomed that woman and her kids in those BT adverts who shags his way across America then brings a skank home for his mate.

The women on the other hand just eat shit, grin and bear it. Laura Linney fails to get laid because she must selflessly care for her disabled brother plot-device/tick box, joining such illustrious Curtis disabled plot-device/tick boxes as the deaf brother in Four Weddings and non-disabled Gina McKee playing a special and brave wheelchair user in Notting Hill. Emma Thompson’s character meanwhile discovers her husband, the Sheriff of Nottingham, him out of Die Hard, is buying jewellery for the office floozy while all she’s getting is a Joni Mitchell CD (though she does look like the kind of woman who forces everyone to listen to Big Yellow Taxi at a party while drinking her own body weight in gin) and, rather than change the locks, empty the bank accounts and bonfire his suits in the front garden, she simply mentions it to him during their kids’ Christmas show.

Victims all, these women enable their abusers and watching the film it’s hard not to think of Bill Hicks’ rueful comment on Ted Bundy and his devoted female admirers: “And I ain’t getting laid?” Because, despite every living woman in the film being sexually harassed and denigrated, even a portrait of Iron Lady Maggie Thatcher isn’t safe, Love Actually is inexplicably popular.

Now I’m not saying that if they were working class truckers rather than posh twats, that Curtis’ heroes would definitely be the type of chaps who would be killing hookers with a hammer in a lay-by. Nor am I saying that Curtis himself is a dangerous sociopath. Though I bet if you went round for dinner, Emma Freud would be spelling out “HELP ME” in the alphabetti spaghetti.

But I am saying Love Actually is a cynical calculation, an emotional manipulation that hijacks one of the greatest human tragedies of the 21st century, the 9/11 attacks, to paper over its paper-thin characterisations and questionable sexual politics. Possibly the worst thing to happen at Christmas since King Herod ordered the Slaughter of the Innocents, Love Actually is actually just evil.

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