I wonder what signifies wealth to other people, how it drastically varies amongst people, and how it evolves and changes so gradually deepening on what stage of life we arrive at, like the greying of hairs or crumbling of bones.
When I was 14, a Christmas present from a friend made me tear-up. It was an H&M black-and-white shirt. She accidentally left the tag on, but didn’t gasp and sweep it out of my hands for “it only cost £25”.
TWENTY-FIVE BRITISH POUND STERLING? That amount was unforgivable to me. That was a fiver over the amount my Grandma would hand over to a cashier so we could eat for a week, as long as we were careful and conservative.
Our doors didn’t slot into the frames properly, nor were the light switches flick the correct way up. Sausages formed the basis of our meals, the cheapest meat to provide sustenance. And when I turned on the TV, strictly Freeview because Sky was “for North Siders”—my Granddad’s synonym for the affluence that enshrouded our neighbours in my hometown—I caught glimpses of other worlds in a Richard Curtis galaxy far beyond what I knew.
Under decadent Christmas lights, Harry broke Karen’s heart over a necklace destined for Mia. The Cornish coastline played-out the romance and grief of Tim’s time-travelling adventures. Anna and Will’s to-and-froing fizzles against the rich backdrop of Portobello Road. And Bridget sits in her flat, unlucky in love and feeling “incredibly hideous”.
Richard Curtis’ films were just that. Films. Pure escapism into a written narrative of fantasy and exploration. Some of them existed before I was born, and others hit their stride just as I was discovering how to illegally download .MP3 songs into my Sony Ericsson. I watched them with the disconnect of someone who didn’t pay their own bills or understand the deeply layered fictional worlds which said films connected did a poor job of reflecting their real-world counterparts.
I look back at these films that, for their viewer majority, struck a chord, earning accolades and acclaim, and look-over their shortcomings, and update them for an audience living in the new decade.
Read more: Yesterday Review
Love, Actually’s intertwinement of narratives is beautifully-written and probably only the first time out of two in history that film buffs hated the late, great Alan Rickman. The film saw its leading women written-in solely to depend upon men, which is just sad in itself. But it’s 2020 now, and Billy Mack’s manager has harshly blocked/scolded him for refusing to film an IGTV video for Love Is All Around, Daniel’s stepson Sam vanishes into the night seeking TikTok fame. Writer Jamie has to reduce his retreat plans to a B&B in Barry as his book advance wouldn’t cover a week in a Farmhouse on Chemin du Roucas Troucas, France. And Karen, after Harry’s indiscretion, throws the Joni Mitchell iPhone case at him before leaving.
Comedian Gina Yashere said it best: “Black people hated Notting Hill.”
The portrayal of Portobello Road and other central London areas in the film has a noticeable lack of its essential identity: the Black British people of London. Curtis himself favoured the spot as a melting-pot which would backdrop the film’s premise wonderfully and depicted the intersectionality of an average person’s life with a celebrity. But black people only appear in the film in roles such as a hotel bellboy and roles akin to such. Yet, even as the production crew admitted overcoming filming difficulties by gaining favourable approval from residents for the area’s portrayal, this begs concern as to what a “good” portrayal was, utterly devoid of the area’s multiculturalism. In 2020, William’s pop-up bookshop (as “normal people” do not typically own bookstores in Zone 1) is fervently competing against Amazon’s prices and Anna still hasn’t replied to his DM’s.
Bridget Jones is nothing of a failure, though the lightheartedness of the film’s screenplay doesn’t present her character this way. Bridget might like bad sweaters and be at the short-straw end of two very shit men, but she kills the game in a high-flying job, has a gorgeous flat, and has a solid circle of friends, albeit ones with their own problems. The 2016 Bridge Jones’s Baby did a stellar job of updating the franchise, earning accolades as bright as the first film.
The series hinged terribly on stereotypes, misogyny and was reductive in the portrayal of a woman who somehow afforded to live in London Bridge.
Jones’s redemption comes not from securing Mr Mark Darcy, but from her life in the new decade. Going freelance due to cuts at her employer, Bridget now conducts Zoom meetings from her 1-bed in Epsom.
Finally, we come to About Time. Tim and Mary’s time-hopping adventures are the pinnacle of Richard Curtis’s gorgeous screenplay, artfully rearranging themes of love in an intertwined tangle, as well as another monumental cast. But About Time glosses over the glaring, brazen privilege to paint the gorgeously tinted hue of the narrative. Mary somehow landed a reader job in a publisher and lived above an upscale boutique; Tim’s in equally pleasant surroundings and has parents in a big house on the Cornish coast. It’s idyllic. How did they afford the constant train fares up and down the GWR, how Kit Kat evaded arrest for drunk-driving, and how Mary didn’t outright tell a persistent Tim in time-travel mode where to off.
Whilst non-exhaustive of Curtis’s screenplay credits, these films represented stitches within the fabric of British cinema and cemented the careers of its entire cast. However, they all came from highly regarded repute originally. In truth, each film should be left to be enjoyed by their die-hard fans. But in 2020, injustices are a pebble beach in the mantra of no stone unturned. One or two of them mean a lot to me, simply because of their message or the time in which I watched it. It’s Curtis’s galaxy, as inexcusably flawed that his well-written escapism thrives, that I lose myself in sometimes. Millions around the nation have done the same.
Their doors fitted perfectly into frames fringed by decadent skirting. The characters seemed to have an endless flow of money that, to someone growing up in council housing and holding an agonisingly sharp eye on finances (or lack, thereof), and they didn’t well-up over a £25 H&M shirt, but that is what escapism does to us. We quote lines, and laugh or grimace or bemoan scenes in retrospect. Richard Curtis films are beautiful and intricate, but they’re not the whole picture. They do not tell the lives in everyone that should be on-screen, nor depict struggles faced by the real-life viewers of his marvels.
Wealth to me as an adult is representation. Everyone’s face and voice heard on-screen makes a rich film. This is a lesson to all.
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