Why this ‘mind-blowing’ Love Actually fact makes the film incredibly problematic

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Kayleigh Dray
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Love Actually fans were stunned when they recently worked out the real-life age difference between Juliet and Sam - but here’s why they’re missing the bigger issue…

It has recently come to light (via Metro) just how close in age both Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who played Sam, and Keira Knightley, who played Juliet, were when Love Actually was filmed in the early Noughties.

And, somewhat insanely, there is only five years between them.

While Brodie-Sangster was 13 when he landed the part of Sam (aka the little boy who breaks through airport security to declare his undying love to his schoolgirl crush), Knightley was just 17, meaning they almost could’ve gone to the same school at the same time.

Naturally, long-time fans of the film lost their minds over the news on Twitter.

However, while you might be tempted to file this away as one of those interesting bits of film trivia, it’s worth taking things one step further and asking the more important question: how old was Andrew Lincoln in the movie?

Lincoln, of course, plays Mark in Love Actually. As in, yes, the same Mark who owns a secret video tape that’s entirely comprised of sneaky footage he’s taken of an unaware Juliet. The same Mark who visits Juliet at home on Christmas Eve. The same Mark who, in spite of the fact that she’s the wife of his best friend, Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofar), declares his undying love to her via a series of handwritten cards.

All together now: “And my wasted heart will love you, until you look like this [mummified corpse].”

Ah, necrophilia. It’s always so romantic, isn’t it?

Problematic love notes aside, we’ve done a little digging – and we’ve discovered that Lincoln is 12 years older than Knightley.

Which means that, yes, Richard Curtis decided to cast a 29-year-old opposite a 17-year-old girl (Ejiofor, similarly, is eight years older than his on-screen wife / teenage bride).

Lincoln – who has admitted that he views his character as the “creepy stalker” of the film – previously explained to Entertainment Weekly that he thinks looking young helped him tip it back into innocent romance.

“I think it was decided [during auditions] that I looked quite innocent,” he said.

“I didn’t have facial hair or wrinkles back then – and I wasn’t starring on a zombie TV show [The Walking Dead]. I didn’t look as, well, creepy as I do now.”

But, Lincoln’s fresh-faced good looks aside, this Love Actually age revelation is an undeniably grim reminder of a much wider problem.

A US study released in 2015 analysed the age difference between on-screen couples in films from the past 30 years, and found that some leading men are up to 15 years older than their female love interests or co-stars. 

Remember when Winona Ryder played a mother to Zachary Quinto, an actor just under six years her junior, in Star Trek? Or when, in the film Alexander, we saw Angelina Jolie play Colin Farrell’s mother, despite the fact she’s only one year older than him? Or when Maggie Gyllenhaal was considered too old to play the lover of a 55-year-old man, despite being 37?

“It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh,” she said at the time.

The most depressing part of this statistic is that so little has changed in three decades – but now, thanks to star-studded shows like Big Little Lies, it seems the film industry is finally prepared to tell (and celebrate) stories about women over 40.

Addressing this fact in her SAG Awards speech earlier this year, Nicole Kidman publicly thanked Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange and Meryl Streep, amongst others.

“I want to thank you all for your trailblazing performances you have given over your career,” a visibly tearful Kidman said, “and how wonderful it is that our careers today can go beyond 40 years old. Because 20 years ago, we were pretty washed up by this stage in our lives, so that’s not the case now. We have proven and these actresses and so many more are proving that we are potent and powerful and viable.

“I just beg that the industry stays behind us because our stories are finally being told. It’s only the beginning and I’m so proud to be a part of a community that is instigating this change, but I implore the writers, directors, studios and financiers to put passion and money behind our stories. We’ve proven that we can continue to do this but only with the support of the industry and that money and passion.”

Amen. Fingers crossed that Hollywood producers take heed of Kidman’s words and remember that age shaming is, actually, an unacceptably sexist double-standard in our society.

Images: Rex Features