There haven't been a ton of new Christmas classics since the turn of the century. One of the most enduring holiday films to come around since then has been Love, Actually. The film is a sentimental kaleidoscope of intersecting characters and story lines. Most of the time, those films are overstuffed and undercooked. Love, Actually is something of an exception, though.
For the most part, each of its characters is vividly realized in spite of their limited screen time. Love, Actually is a deeply sincere movie about the power of love. It's also a movie rife with characters who run the gamut from saintliness to demonic. Some of them are largely victims in their stories, or do next to nothing wrong. Others are annoying or hurtful in ways that impact the entire film. Here's every major character from Love, Actually ranked from nicest to naughtiest.
Joe is a humble, simple man. He's been Billy Mack's manager for years, and he's never really been appreciated. Instead, he's been subjected to numerous jokes about his weight and appearance, all of which he happily shrugs off.
Joe is deeply loyal to Billy, and deeply distressed whenever Billy does anything foolish. When it looks like Joe is going to spend Christmas Eve alone, it's Billy who comes and tells Joe how valuable he is. Joe is willing to look past Billy's crudeness and rudeness. He's happy to have a friend to spend the holiday with. Joe is truly the very best that Love, Actually has to offer.
Sam is a young man in love. His love is earnest and pure. It's not laced with any cynicism yet. He spends months learning how to play the drums so that he can accompany his love Joanna in the Christmas musical. All around, he's a great young man.
Even in the wake of his mother's death, he's soldiering on happily. His story is the least complicated of the bunch, and also the most joyous. He learns to play the drums for love! It can't get much sweeter than that, even in a movie as filled with joy and love as Love, Actually.
Poor, poor Karen. On the whole, Love, Actually is a pretty uplifting movie. The only exception comes in Karen's story. Karen is married to Harry, the unfaithful man who ruins Christmas by having an affair. It isn't even a situation in which Karen has done anything remotely wrong. In fact, she seems to be a model wife and mother.
While most of the characters in the film spend Christmas Eve falling in love, Karen spends hers crying. She knows that her husband has been unfaithful, but she isn't sure how to proceed. Karen is a strong woman, and she chooses not to forgive him. A wise choice, indeed.
Liam Neeson doesn't often play sweet, supportive characters, but that's exactly who Daniel is. Despite having recently lost his wife, Daniel spends most of this movie trying to help his stepson win the girl of his dreams' affections. He gets docked slightly for not taking Sam seriously early on in the film, but other than that he's pretty much perfect.
He even drives Sam to the airport to say goodbye to Joanna. Daniel is willing to be supportive of his stepson. Together, they find a way to believe in love in the face of grief. It's a beautiful, simple story about nice people being good.
Sarah is hands-down the best person working in Harry's office. She's sweet and a little shy, but she also has a huge crush on Karl, an undeniably handsome man. She spends much of the movie trying to work up the courage to go home with him, but when she finally does, things don't go as planned.
Sarah has a brother with a mental disability who relies on her heavily. He lives in a home, but he calls her often. When he calls while she and Karl are in bed, she makes the right call to go be with him. It's a sweet, sisterly move. It's also deeply selfless. Even though Karl doesn't handle it well, Sarah's decision proves what a tremendous catch she is.
Billy Mack is, for most of his movie, a complete jerk. He spends the movie working to get his terrible Christmas song to number one on the charts, and he ultimately succeeds. Along the way, he makes plenty of jokes at his manager Joe's expense.
How did Billy end up so high on this list, then? Frankly, it has a lot to do with Bill Nighy's wonderfully strange performance. He plays the aging rocker so well that, when Billy ultimately tells Joe he loves him, it's totally convincing. Under the delirium of years of drug use, Billy's actually a really sweet guy.
Peter didn't do anything wrong. He earned his spot on this list because he's an innocent victim to Mark's strange obsession with his wife. Chiwitel Ejiofor would go on to be a fairly well-known name, but here, he's given short shrift.
Peter deserves to have the relationship the beginning of the film promises between he and Juliet. After all, he's the one who gets married. Often when two men are in love with the same woman, one seems to be less than cool. That's not how Peter seems at all, though, and it's too the movie's credit that he seems like a lovely person.
Most of the characters in this film are British, but Aurelia is the notable exception. She's the maid working in Jamie's remote cabin, and the two find themselves connected, even though they don't share a language. Their relationship develops pretty quickly, but it's one of the sweetest parts of the film.
Aurelia gets a slight edge over Jamie in these rankings because of her colorful family. It's easy to see where her slightly sassy personality comes from. She learns English for him, which is sweet, but she waits for him to come to her. She knows her worth, and had a feeling Jamie might come knocking.
Natalie is a sweet, humble lady who works on the Prime Minster's household staff. The Prime Minister, who is both young and a bachelor, falls in love with her, and she with him. Unfortunately, she also gets groped by the American president and is subject to a number of taunts about her weight.
Natalie and the rest of her family don't deserve any of that. She's a beautiful, happy person who deserves to be with a man who truly loves her. Fortunately, it seems like David has finally figured that out by the end of the film, and acted on his feelings appropriately.
Colin Firth has a naturally sweet screen presence, and that is used to full effect in his work as Jamie. He plays a humble writer who starts the film by discovering he's being cheated on. From there, he decides to retreat to an isolated cabin for the holidays.
There, he meets Aurelia, and the two fall in love despite a language barrier. Jamie's real moment of triumph comes late in the film, though, when, after learning Portuguese, he travels to Brazil to propose. That gesture inspires a whole town to come and watch the fireworks, and it's where Jamie proves himself a true romantic.
Judy's relationship with John is perhaps the strangest thing about Love, Actually, but it can also be oddly charming. John and Judy are both adult film star stand-ins, and they get to know each other in a variety of intimate positions. Still, the charm in their relationship is how un-sexy each of these scenes is. They're miming sex, but it's awkward instead of hot.
The pair of them have a number of conversations as they work, and eventually go out together. Judy is charming because she's at once so willing to show her body but shy with John about her own life.
John doesn't get a ton of screen time, but he is played by the marvelous Martin Freeman, which certainly helps. He and Judy are cordoned off into a fairly conventional love story, but they're a necessary element for the film as a whole.
His relationship with Judy is a reminder that love is often a beautiful thing when it's first blooming. John and Judy's relationship is fascinating because they've seen each other naked before they go on a date. Who knows how that'll impact things long-term? In the short-term, these two are a cute pair, and they're made cute in part because of John's winning personality.
Hugh Grant is a charming man, but he always feels just a little bit slimy. In some ways, he's a perfect fit for David, the young prime minister who falls in love with one of the women who works in his house.
One of the major plusses in David's column is how willing he is to be silly. He dances around his stately home, and isn't afraid to stick up for himself when he needs to. Still, he waits far too long to act on his feelings for Natalie. He also makes a fat joke that's in poor taste and is totally unnecessary. He's the first on the list who's definitely on Santa's "naughty" list.
Joanna is sweet, and she's an incredible singer for her age. We don't get to know her well enough to really judge her as a person. She ends up with Sam, though, that certainly earns her some points.
Even so, she might have ended up higher on this list if she'd spotted Sam sooner. He was clearly interested, and they certainly had plenty of rehearsals to get ready for their climactic performances. He's so cute! Surely he should have caught Joanna's eyes before the concert. Still, she makes the right call in the end, and you've got to give her some credit for that.
It's not Juliet's fault that her husband's best friend is in love with her. There's nothing she can do. Even so, there are probably better ways to handle men like Mark than to indulge his obsession. Her biggest mistake his kissing him, even if they both know that nothing will come of it.
She's charmed by Mark's obsession with her instead of confused by it. It's her encouragement that reinforces the perception that his stalking behavior is anything other than a problem. Juliet isn't responsible for Mark's obsession with her, but she definitely shouldn't promote it, especially when her husband is sitting right upstairs.
Tony doesn't do anything wrong, be he could probably stand to reevaluate his friendship with Colin. He seems generally down on Colin's plan to travel to the U.S. for women, but he also isn't that upset when Colin returns with a beautiful woman for him as well.
Tony needs to return to his principles. He shouldn't let a sleazebag like Colin turn him into one as well. The end of the film seems to imply that that's what's likely to happen. After all, Tony's a man. It's not like they can ever resist their carnal instincts and respect women as human beings.
In a movie that's often quite smart about how love really works, Mark's story sticks out like a sore thumb. When Juliet discovers that he spent most of her wedding taping her, Mark's reaction initial reaction is appropriate. He seems both embarrassed and regretful.
Instead of moving on and trying to become a less creepy human, Mark decides to go to the home she shares with her husband and tell her how much he loves her on posterboard. It's a gesture that's been mocked at infinitum, but it's worth reflecting on how sleazy it is. Juliet is taken. Mark needs to move on.
There's nothing really wrong with Karl, he just doesn't handle his relationship with Sarah very well at all. When she decides not to sleep with him because of her brother, he just calls the whole thing off. What kind of decision is that? Karl should have been attracted to the compassion Sarah chose to show for her family.
Karl may not have been worth Sarah's time after all. He seems to have just wanted some sex, and when he didn't get it, he decided to throw a fit. Sarah may have started the film in love with him, but by the end, she knows he isn't worth her time.
Mia isn't the worst character in Love, Actually, but she's not exactly a good person. She works quite hard to seduce Harry away from his wife, and while it's Harry's decision, she certainly isn't helping matters.
What's more, she doesn't seem to feel all that bad about stealing another woman's man. In fact, part of the thrill for her seems to come from the fact that he's taken. If Mia were at all remorseful, she might be higher up on this list. Instead, she doubles down on her wrongheaded seduction and is party to the breakup of a family as a result.
Colin just wants to get laid. It's not a particularly lofty goal or a particularly admirable one. His plot line in Love, Actually is the one that most people could probably do without, as he ventures to America based on the belief that his accent will be appealing to American women. What's strange is that he's correct.
He arrives in America and seems to immediately pick up three women. This is the film's strangest turn, and it's least forgivable. Colin ends up looking like a sex-crazed idiot. Fortunately, there's relatively little screen time devoted to it, and it ultimately doesn't impact the rest of the film.
Alan Rickman is an all-time great actor, but Harry is just the worst. He wants to be a thoughtful and supportive husband even as he cheats on his wife. He recognizes what a piggish fool he's been, but that doesn't do anybody any good after the fact.
Harry is the reason that Karen, his lovely wife, cries on Christmas Eve. For that reason alone, Harry is the worst. Infidelity is a horrible thing to put someone through, and although he seems remorseful, it's too little too late. He's let his wife and his family slip through his fingers, and it's entirely his fault.