It starts for Jamie (Colin Firth), as it does for all liberals, with a cucking. Returning home from the glorious, Beatles-covered union of Keira Knightley and Chiwetel Ejiofor to check on his sick girlfriend (Sienna Guillory), Jamie discovers that she’s Beullered him – and is in fact schtupping his brother (Dan Fredenburgh).
Definitively emasculated, Jamie absconds to his cottage in unspecified France to write his novel, where he will engage in a lost-in-translation relationship with a Portuguese peasant, Aurélia. He drives her home each day after she cleans his house, and in return he never needs to bother understanding what she is saying and can fall in love with what passes, to him, as her exoticism.
Firth’s stiff upper lip performance (his only note, but the note that made him a star) brings to mind PG Wodehouse’s not-so-accidental collaboration with the Nazis during World War 2. Much as Jamie cuts himself off from the London society that populates Love, Actually, Wodehouse was in a self-imposed isolation in France in 1941 when the Nazi army rolled in and interned him. On his release, Wodehouse was transported to Berlin, where he would see out much of the war delivering radio broadcasts that characterised the British in a less than favourable light. Wodehouse, that cataloguer of jodhpurs, immaculate lawns, and English breakfast cuisine, was revealed by this act to have hated his own culture: ‘before the war I had always been modestly proud of being an Englishman, but now that I have been some months resident in this bin or repository of Englishmen I am not so sure…’ Though the content of Jamie’s novel is never described, one imagines that it would be a similar screed against the hypocrisies that make up Britain, and his own personality. Thank goodness a gust of wind sends his manuscript into the water.
His return to Wandsworth (the dodgy end) is the most telling moment. Arms stuffed with Christmas presents, the door to his family home swings open to reveal his entire network of aunts, cousins and grandparents in baroque staging: sherry glasses aloft, balding heads shining, badly applied lipstick, excited children in M&S gingham, his brother’s face meekly poking from behind an auntie. Confronted by what Lacan would call the real, Jamie flees as though Stella Dallas from the scene of the original sin. Back to Europe, his only option is to conquer the unconquerable: his British exceptionalism has an entire Portuguese village follow him through the streets on his way to propose to Aurélia.
The spirit of Jamie lives on, through the tutting ‘FBPE’ commenters who backed a people’s vote as an escape route from Brexit. The acronym stands for ‘Follow Back, Pro-European Union’. You have seen these types: they might have a European Union flag draped in their window, or a ‘QC’ in their Twitter handle. The FBPE brigade sees the EU as the only glimmer of freedom against the rising tides of fascism. Sensible deregulation, they seek. Never mind Greece. Never mind that the EU’s border force, Frontex, is contributing to the humanitarian crisis on the Poland/Belarus border at this very minute. ‘I am not British, I am European,’ FBPE will say, without considering what that could mean beyond owning Farage. But look at the comic punchline to the Jamie and Aurélia plotline. To complete the transaction of property and attain his new wife/cleaner, Jamie must snog the fat sister and the father! The European will always seem wild and exotic to the Brit, and until we can get over that fact, we will all continue to be cucked by our kin.
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