Richard Curtis doesn’t actually love some of his old jokes from Love Actually.
The British filmmaker was publicly challenged Sunday by his 28-year-old daughter Scarlett over the many jokes about weight in the movies Love Actually (2003), which Curtis wrote and directed, and Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), which he co-wrote.
The candid conversation occurred at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in England after Scarlett told her 66-year-old father that there’s been growing criticism in recent years “around the ways your films treated women and people of colour.”
“I remember how shocked I was five years ago when Scarlett said to me, ‘You can never use the word ‘fat’ again.’ Wow, you were right,” Richard said, per The Times. “In my generation calling someone chubby [was funny] — in Love Actually there were jokes about that.”
“Those jokes aren’t any longer funny,” he continued.
Scarlett noted that Martine McCutcheon’s character in Love Actually is criticised in the film for her “tree-trunk thighs,” and is kissed non-consensually by the president of the United States (Billy Bob Thornton).
Scarlett spoke about the “inappropriate boss behaviour” in the movie, and noted that her father’s depictions of women were generally tantamount to “visions of unattainable loveliness.”
“I think I was unobservant and not as clever as I should have been,” Richard reportedly said.
While the vignettes in Love Actually have long been cherished by many, Curtis himself previously said he was “sorry to lose” the only gay storyline while directing his script. The end product features 10 heterosexual love stories and a primarily white cast.
In Bridget Jones, the title character, played by Renée Zellweger, vows to “lose 20 pounds” and is criticised by numerous characters who say things like: “I thought you said she was thin?” Zellweger’s character is established as weighing 136 pounds at the start of the movie.
Zellweger has said in the past that she hates to be asked about gaining weight for the film, and hates to be applauded for losing it.
“I never thought she had a weight issue,” Zellweger said on the Today show in 2016, referring to the character of Bridget. “I thought that was just something that, all of us, we think ‘Oh, I’d love to change this thing about myself,’ when in fact nobody notices it but you.”
As for Notting Hill (1999), written by Curtis, Scarlett criticised the “lack of people of colour” in the film.
She reminded him that the titular neighbourhood is “one of the birthplaces of the British Black civil rights movement.” The UK National Archives note that Black activists from the Caribbean fought for anti-discrimination laws in the area as early as 1958.
“I wish I’d been ahead of the curve,” Richard Curtis told his daughter, per The Times. “I think because I came from a very undiverse school and bunch of university friends, I think that I hung on to the feeling that I wouldn’t know how to write those parts.”
He continued: “I think I was just stupid and wrong about that.”
The filmmaker added that he, his casting director and his producers didn’t “look outwards” while making the film. He told Diane Sawyer in 2022 that “the lack of diversity makes me feel uncomfortable and stupid” — but that his films are a reflection of the time.
“There are things you’d change, but thank God society is changing,” he told Sawyer.