One of life’s few certainties is that every holiday season the internet will become alight with Love Actually discourse, mostly in the form of fierce criticism over how badly it has aged.
Even though the Richard Curtis movie was released in 2003 — that’s 19 years ago — dissecting every aspect of it has arguably become as much of a Christmas tradition as leaving out milk and cookies for Santa.
From newspaper thinkpieces by analytical critics to social media posts from casual viewers, it seems that Love Actually will never escape this annual scrutiny.
And some of the criticism is indisputably valid. For example, the constant fat-shaming of Downing Street employee Natalie is totally unjustifiable. But other parts are less objective.
One of the most reviled characters in Love Actually is Mark, played by The Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln.
Mark is best friends with Peter and in love with Peter’s wife, Juliet — and if you need a reminder, the newlyweds are played by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Keira Knightley.
There are two key scenes that make up this storyline. The first is when Juliet shows up at Mark’s house unannounced and proceeds to play a tape that he had made out of footage that he filmed at her and Peter’s wedding.
This leads to the toe-curlingly cringey moment where we — and Juliet — realize that Mark is in love with her, and had effectively cut Peter out of the wedding tape entirely.
“You never talk to me,” stunned Juliet says in response. “You always talk to Peter… You don’t like me.”
Mark awkwardly stumbles over his words as he makes his excuses to leave, managing to half-explain, “It’s a self-preservation thing, y’see,” before going outside and, understandably, having a mini breakdown.
Later in the film, Mark turns up at Juliet and Peter’s house and when she opens the door he holds up a cue card that reads “say it’s carol singers.” He then explains the entire situation to Juliet via the signs while Peter remains indoors totally unaware.
After joking that by next year he hopes to be dating a model, Mark’s cards read: “But for now let me say, without hope or agenda, just because it’s Christmas (and at Christmas you tell the truth) to me, you are perfect.”
He then says that his “wasted heart” will love Juliet forever, before wishing her a merry Christmas and starting to walk away.
At this point, Juliet runs after him and gives him a kiss on the lips, with the scene ending as Mark says to himself: “Enough. Enough now.”
In 2013, a brutal opinion piece on Jezebel called the cue card scene “nice-guy emotional manipulation reframed as ‘romance’” before branding it the “artistic low point of the 21st century.”
That same year, journalist Natalie Bochenski wrote: “If your husband’s best friend turned up on your doorstep telling you not to speak and declaring his love via a dodgy Bob Dylan impression, you’d call the police. At the very least you’d call your husband and the pair of you would carefully explain the definition of the term ‘stalker’ and try to set some boundaries.”
And earlier this month, British morning show Jeremy Vine kicked off the annual conversation with a topical debate on whether it’s time people stopped watching Love Actually altogether.
Host Jeremy branded Mark “a truly ghastly person” and said that he is “clearly a stalker.” Referencing the cue card scene, Jeremy said that it is presented within the movie as “somehow exciting or sympathetic.”
And the people of Twitter have a similar stance, with one person writing: “Oh look, it’s Love Actually, that charming festive romantic comedy film where Andrew Lincoln plays a stalker.”
Another tweet reads: “The cue cards stunt in Love Actually is absolutely psychotic.” Someone else asked: “What is up with the dude in Love Actually confessing his love to Kira Knightly (aka his BEST FRIEND’s wife) via cue cards??? what an insane thing to do why put this in a movie.”
Another person said: “Why do ppl think that scene in love actually is romantic with the cue cards… the man is fucking over his best friend and tempting his wife to cheat on him….”
But while it is undeniably weird of Mark to have made that video of Juliet, it’s worth pointing out that he wasn’t exactly spying through their windows to get the footage. It was a public place and Juliet knew that she was being filmed, which definitely makes it at least a little bit less creepy.
As mentioned, Mark initially explains his edit of the wedding footage as “self-preservation,” which suggests that allowing himself to indulge in his crush on his best friend’s partner in this ultimately harmless way is what has stopped him from being emotionally hurt by the unrequited love thus far.
In modern times, Mark would probably be able to achieve this same goal by looking at Juliet’s Instagram page. But in the pre–social media era of 2003, he didn’t have easy access to photos and videos of Juliet, and while I should reiterate that taking matters into his own hands is definitely dubious, it certainly isn’t as sinister as the critics make it out to be.
And unless you can honestly say that you have never looked at your crush’s socials, you’re probably more similar to Mark than you realize.
Now, as for the cue cards, what a lot of people appear to forget about this moment is that at this stage Juliet has seen the video, and Mark hasn’t really said anything to her about it.
In fact, it’d arguably be more problematic for that to have happened only for Mark to never address it; he owes Juliet an explanation of sorts, which means that this scene isn’t without reason and certainly isn’t a reflection of Mark trying to steal his friend’s wife.
It is painfully obvious that Mark never had any intention of sharing his feelings for Juliet with her until he was caught out in spectacular fashion, and even when he does he makes a point of saying that he is telling her “without hope or agenda.”
Mark doesn’t plan for Juliet to leave Peter for him, nor does he hope that she will — he is just facing the embarrassment head-on and giving Juliet the answers that she deserves.
After all, what’s the one thing weirder than finding out that your husband’s best friend only filmed you on your wedding day? That would probably be your husband’s best friend never actually acknowledging what happened and nobody quite knowing exactly where they stand.
Mark’s confession needed to happen in order for both him and Juliet to get closure and move on from that horribly awkward moment together, and the determination in Mark telling himself “enough now” as he walks away suggests that he intends to draw a line under the whole thing and finally move on with his life.
And the fact that the movie ends with Mark accompanying Peter and Juliet to meet their friend at the airport one month later implies that this is exactly what he was able to do, and that there is no ill feeling or tension between any of the characters.
All in all, while some of Mark’s behavior is questionable in Love Actually, he certainly isn’t the Christmas villain that he is made out to be — and there is only one thing left to say when it comes to this annual slander: Enough. Enough now.