Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch: ‘Love Actually’ a Christmas confection; ‘Master and Commander’ serves up an ‘epic that satisfies’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 4, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Universal Pictures recently released the British production of the romantic comedy Love Actually. The writer and director of this Christmas confection is Richard Curtis, who earlier in his career wrote the delightful crowd pleasers Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill.

Love Actually is the story of eight or so individuals and couples who fall in love in the five weeks or so before Christmas. In practice this two-hour-plus movie would have been better if a couple of the stories had been cut out.

I have to admit up front I haven’t laughed as much at a movie in many a month. The set-ups are sometimes British music hall humor, which has a lot of sexual innuendo to it. For some people this may not be very funny.

Love Actually is filled with well-known British and American stars who are filmed in picture-post card settings throughout London. There is no suggestion of the homeless individuals sleeping outside just a few blocks from the beautiful scenes of the Thames.

Hugh Grant plays the new unmarried Prime Minister who is attracted to one of his assistants (Martine McCutcheon). The Prime Minister doesn’t know how to make known his feeling. It takes much of the film for him to finally reveal his love at a Christmas School pageant where his assistant’s brother is playing a sea animal at the manger.

Bill Nighy just about steals the show as the aging rock star who has recorded a sentimental tune – that he hates – for Christmas. And yet he hopes with all his heart it will be the number one CD of the season.

Colin Firth plays a novelist whose wife has dropped him. He goes to Provence in France to write. There he falls in love with a beautiful Portuguese maid (Lucia Moniz). He can’t speak Portuguese and she can speak English. It takes some time but love does win out. Director Curtis seems overly harsh in making fun of the maid’s rather large sister as the two principals come together at Christmas in a fancy restaurant that seems to hold the entire village.

Emma Thompson plays the talented wife facing the possible unfaithfulness of her husband, played by Alan Rickman. Thompson’s scene in her bedroom where she realizes an important truth is memorable.

Laura Linney plays an assistant at a publishing house who is extremely shy. She hopes against hope to have a date with her colleague (Rodrigo Santoro). Her moment of joy is destroyed by constant telephone calls from her brother who is suffering from severe mental illness. Not all the stories in Love Actually are as tidy as we might want them to be.

Andrew Lincoln plays a young man who has just watched his dream girl (Keira Knightley) marry his best friend. There is a poignant scene at Christmas where he writes about his feeling on large poster cards. To him she is perfection itself. As he walks away from her flat she follows him and kisses him. To that he says to himself, “That’s enough to remember her.”

Liam Neeson buries his beloved wife early in the film. He is worried about his 11-year-old step son who locks himself in his room. Finally the son (Thomas Sangster) tells his Dad that he’s in love with an American girl at school who is leaving at Christmas to return home. Neeson helps to boy to do impossible things at Heathrow Airport to finally tell the young lady he loves her.

Richard Curtis with the help of some mighty fine actors gives us a very enjoyable Christmas love story that is loaded with fun and joy and yet at times is very bittersweet. If you like romantic comedies, you will love Love Actually.

Love Actually is rated R – under 17 requires accompanying parent or guardian. There is sexuality, some nudity, and coarse language.

The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting gives Love Actually its new rating of L — limited adult audience film whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.


The new dramatic film of the sea, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, is an epic that satisfies. The direction by Peter Weir is magnificent. Captain Jack Aubrey, from the novels of the late Patrick O’Brian, is played with a heroic intensity by Academy Award winner Russell Crowe. The movie has a marvelous way of developing interesting characters between the two battle sections at the beginning and end of the film. The characters and their interesting stories make Master and Commander a fascinating movie that stays in the memory.

With powerful scenes of the British ship HMS Surprise off the coast of Brazil we see what it was like to live in such close quarters on a relatively small ship. The hammock sleeping area with each sailor sleeping just inches away from another sailor is reminiscent of the 1925 classic Russian film Potemkin.

It is April of 1805. Captain Aubrey leads 196 men as they find themselves engulfed in the Napoleonic Wars far from home. Aubrey’s close friend is Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany, who played Crowe’s imaginary friend in the film A Beautiful Mind). Maturin a doctor is the person who can tell Aubrey how the crew is reacting to orders. Maturin is the one who can speak his mind honestly to Aubrey. And the two friends who do challenge each other share the gift of music with Aubrey playing the violin and Maturin the cello.

Early on in the film a larger French frigate Acheron attacks the Surprise. In the process of the restoration of the Surprise we visually learn much about the ship and how she is run in the 1800s. We also realize soon on that many of the shipmates are young teenage boys. For Aubrey there is a kind mentoring to these young men who remind him of his own journey to captain starting at their young age.

As the Surprise chases the French Ship around South America and ends up in the region of the Galapagos Islands, Maturin, a naturalist as well as physician, is excited about the possibility of finding new animals and birds to illustrate and write about. When Maturin is shot it would seem that exploring the islands is out of the question for him. But with the help of Aubrey and crew, the amazing doctor is able to operate on himself in a scene that is hauntingly memorable.

The story moves rapidly to a powerful climax as the Surprise pretends to be a whaling boat. The French enemy comes very close before she realizes that it is the Surprise. The hand-to-hand combat that ensues is terrific. And there are a number of gentle surprises as the story of Captain Aubrey and his energetic crew draws to a conclusion.

The acting of the entire ensemble cast is wonderful. Of course Crowe stands out. You come to believe his crew would follow him into the depths of battle. The young cast members are terrific. Paul Bettany is amazing as the good friend who can listen and challenge.

Master and Commander is a majestic film. Director Weir has done a fabulous job of enabling us to be claustrophobic within the ship and yet experience the expanse of the sea with wind, sun, and stillness. For acting, fine film making, and a great story you can’t go wrong with Master and Commander.

Master and Commander is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for intense battle scenes, surgery images, and language. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Master and Commander A-III – adults.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews also appear in the Cheney Free Press.)

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