Frances de la Tour | Love, Actually

Credit: Universal Pictures

If you like what you find at Cinema Year Zero, please consider subscribing to our Patreon for extra content, including essays, podcasts, and more!

Laura Venning

Poor Lesbian Lover (uncredited). You’ll only find her if you scroll right down to the bottom of the Internet Movie Database’s cast list, sandwiched between Richard Curtis’ cameo as Trombone Player (uncredited), and Rebecca Frayn as Joanna – Daniel’s Dead Wife (uncredited). And unlike those two roles, Lesbian Lover (uncredited) didn’t make it to the final cut; she’s confined to the deleted scenes on scratched DVDs and YouTube uploads in stunning 340p.

In a sequence that lasts no longer than two minutes total, Anne Reid’s stern headmistress arrives home from work clutching a Waitrose bag and has a brief conversation with her Lesbian Lover (uncredited), who’s clearly undergoing chemotherapy. Cut to a scene that we can assume was never intended to immediately follow this showing the couple in bed together and the headmistress’ look of concern and resignation as her partner coughs painfully. Suddenly Emma Thompson is standing on stage in a school hall offering her condolences on behalf of the parents, acknowledging that “Geraldine was a wonderful and wicked woman” as the headmistress looks on.

As abrupt as its conclusion is, it’s a rather lovely sequence that’s a great deal more human than plenty of the scenes which made it into the final cut. Even in such a brief scene, Frances de la Tour gives Geraldine the kind of naughtiness of an eccentric favourite aunt, draped in burgundy and laughing at her partner telling off a child for writing an essay about farts and her fondness for fancy sausages, while the headmistress chuckling at her own pompousness is charming. In a film guilty of sexist wish fulfilment (Kris Marshall’s jaunt to America) and trumpeting about Britain’s greatness under New Labour, it’s as tender and real as anything by Mike Leigh (albeit posher), and the couple’s queerness is incidental but offers a wealth of emotional undercurrents. 

Inevitably, the ‘Love Actually is Problematic, Actually’ discourse rears its head every year with this deleted storyline reappearing as evidence that Richard Curtis did once intend to take a tentative step outside the realm of heteronormativity. Why Were The Two Most Diverse Storylines Cut From Love Actually? cries this Grazia article from December 2020, referring to this sequence and a brief scene between a couple in Africa (the country isn’t specified) who have endured famine. It is certainly rather funny that not only did one of the only two gay characters die, she didn’t even get to do so in the final cut, and fictional lesbians do have a well-documented tendancy to end up dead or alone.

But the fuss over Love Actually’s shortage of gays (though I would argue that Keira Knightley clutching banoffee pie and wearing a newsboy cap is gay culture) feels like yet another entry in pop culture’s tedious adulation or condemnation of media based on its adherence to “good representation.” This often seems to mean inoffensive, well-behaved characters from a perceived minority group, devoid of an inner life. Us queers were clearly supposed to fall down and give thanks to our conglomerate overlords for their benevolence when The Rise of Skywalker (2019) included a same-sex kiss between unnamed characters, Beauty and the Beast (2017)’s LeFou danced with a man for a millisecond and, infamously, co-director Joe Russo appears as a gay man in a group therapy scene in Avengers: Endgame (2019).

Representation is not unimportant. It’s vital, both as a reaffirmation of identity and fostering of empathy. But I’m not heartbroken because Geraldine, aka Lesbian Lover (uncredited), wasn’t loved quite enough. Queer people are used to reinterpreting stories and finding unlikely commonality in all kinds of media. For example, Laura Linney’s euphoria but then denial of her own desire might read as queer (she certainly clocks that Andrew Lincoln might be pining over Chiwetel). Then of course, there is a sincere affection between Bill Nighy’s rockstar and Gregor Fisher’s manager that borders on homoerotic, as jokey as it is. 
The short, sad story of Geraldine and the headmistress is affecting, and Love Actually would be a better film for its inclusion (and the removal of some other storylines). But reading queerness on screen is much more than 1:1 representation. It’s more complex, more subtle, more rewarding and usually more fun. Expand horizons, search beyond whatever’s slopped onto our plates, and look after each other and our community. Happy Christmas.