Scene of the Week: Emma Thompson/Joni Mitchell, Love Actually.
For this week’s SotW, I’ve decided to go with a Christmas-themed scene, as the biggest day of the year is fast approaching! Now, when it comes to scenes from Christmas films, there’s no shortage of classic moments, and I consider the one I have chosen to be right up there, purely from an acting point of view. The scene comes from Love Actually, and it is immediately after Emma Thompson discovers some devastating news regarding her husband.
The story preceding this scene, with regard to Thompson’s Karen and her husband Harry, played by the late, great Alan Rickman, is that Harry’s much-younger secretary has taken a fancy to him, and probably his money, and has attempted to turn his head on more than one occasion. Karen recognised the threat of the secretary at the office Christmas party, and warned Harry to ‘be careful there’.
This brings me to this week’s SotW. Karen finds a necklace in her husband’s pocket, and gets extremely excited as he has broken his annual tradition of a new scarf for her! Later on, when the family are all sat around the tree, agreeing to open only one present in advance of Christmas Day, Karen picks what she thinks is the necklace box, only to find it is a CD box of similar size, containing a Joni Mitchell album, Both Sides Now. She is devastated, and takes herself away from the family for a moment, and this is where Thompson works her magic.
The title track from the album plays alongside this scene with devastating relevance. Thompson tries her hardest to console herself, looking around the bedroom in time with the camera doing the same, picking up glimpses of various memorabilia, most notably the various photos of her and her family, looking as happy as families do. Also, at the same time, the camera flashes to the younger secretary trying her new necklace on, looking into the camera as if it were a mirror. It’s brilliantly shot, as you get the full sense of devastation from the secretary, the soundtrack, and the brilliant Emma Thompson. She doesn’t say a word, Joni Mitchell does the talking, and Thompson’s Karen slowly breaks down as she takes in the severity of the betrayal. She initially looks around, comforting herself with little rubs of the wrists, then ends up bawling her eyes out as you’d expect. Finally, after pulling herself together, she has a little tug at the bedsheet, as if it wasn’t quite made properly, in what seems a desperate attempt to take her mind of it with normality. It’s excellent to watch, as well as heart-wrenching.
Coming back to the soundtrack, Joni Mitchell’s lyrics ring so very true:
I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all
As it’s played, you feel it directly from the point of view of Thompson’s Karen, and, as previously stated, the entire recipe is absolutely perfect in both its execution and brilliance.
While I can appreciate the choice this week is something of a curveball, I feel it’s deserving of the utmost recognition, because, not only is Love Actually a more modern Christmas classic, this scene in particular is so brilliant for the very opposite reasons we’d associate with Christmas, which is equally as powerful, and equally as difficult to execute. Enjoy it below.