Is someone chopping onions in here, or is a Christmas movie playing?
If pressed, I could perform big, hilarious chunks of it from memory. After a glass of mulled wine or three I might even be induced to perform Prime Minister Hugh Grant’s dexterous Number 10 dance routine.
But until today I had no idea about a small but perfectly formed deleted storyline from the film. It follows the headmistress (Anne Reid) of the school (the one with the infamous octopus and third lobster Nativity play) and her terminally sick partner, a woman named Geraldine (Frances de la Tour). The storyline had to be cut after they axed an earlier moment setting up the headmistress and her relationship with Karen (Emma Thompson), but that doesn’t make the loss any more keenly felt.
The tenderness of this lesbian couple’s brief moments together as they playfully rib each other over posh sausages (“They’re not fancy are they? Pork and leek and apple and all that shit,” Geraldine jokes) and the nuances of seventies television, is incredibly moving. “Excellent episode of Starsky and Hutch this afternoon,” Geraldine says. “Those two really are the most appalling drivers.”
Later, as Geraldine coughs painfully in bed, her partner curls up against her and rests her head on her shoulder. The final scene of the couple’s storyline sees Karen addressing the crowd before the nativity play. “On behalf of all the parents that we think it’s very brave her being here today, in light of her recent loss,” Karen says. “Geraldine was a wonderful and wicked woman, and sorrow is particularly hard at Christmas.”
Excuse me, but someone seems to have snuck into the Stylist.co.uk offices and commenced a round of onion cutting in front of me, because it appears that I am crying after watching less than five minutes of footage.
Director and writer Richard Curtis said that he was “really sorry” to have to remove these scenes from the film. The idea, he explains, was that this storyline would serve to underscore that everyone has love in their lives, even the sternest of headmistresses. “You realise that no matter how unlikely it seems that any character that you come across in life has their own complicated tale of love,” Curtis explained, in an introduction to the deleted scene.
It is my personal theory that the best Christmas movies, like the best Christmas songs, have a lonely ache at their core. From It’s A Wonderful Life to Last Christmas to Bridget Jones’ Diary (yes, it’s a Christmas movie, and I’ll brook no argument on that subject so don’t send any letters), Christmas is both a time of celebration and joy and love as well as a time of melancholy and sadness, too.
Love Actually has its share of heartbreaking moments, and they don’t all involve Emma Thompson sobbing in her room to Joni Mitchell. But there’s something about this deleted scene in all its understated, mundane tenderness, that feels extra moving.
Oh, here I go again. I think that dastardly onion cutter is back.