“If you can’t say it at Christmas, when can you, eh? I’m actually yours.”
Our Movie Mythbusters series answers the age-old question, “Okay, but could that actually happen in real life?”
There are plenty of myths to bust in “Love Actually.” Do beautiful American women hurl themselves at any goofball with an accent? Probably not. Would Keira Knightley react to her husband’s creepy friend by kissing him on the mouth? Unlikely. Would airport security let the cute little kid sneak by them to score the smoothest prepubescent kiss ever put to film? They might, if they’ve seen what Liam Neeson can do when you mess with his kids.
But the real question is whether Prime Minister Hugh Grant—er, Prime Minster David (does he ever get a last name?) could, after being so moved by a handwritten Christmas card, find Natalie, the potty-mouthed needle in a dodgy London haystack.
Setting the scene
The montage leading up to Hugh Grant’s charming jaunt down Harris Street in search of his ex-employee/future paramour shows most of the cast in various states of romantic success. We can use these different scenes to estimate what time it is when Hugh Grant leaves 10 Downing St. in pursuit of a little Navidad nookie:
- Liam Neeson is trying to get his son to eat dinner. Must be dinnertime.
- Laura Linney’s character, Sarah, and the handsome Karl are the last two to leave the office. You can see most of the lights are out when Karl packs up his things. Sure, it’s Christmas Eve, and people might knock off a bit early. But if Karl and Sarah are the only ones in office, it’s say to say it’s around 5:00pm.
- Hugh Grant himself has retired from the day’s political activities, suggesting that work hours are indeed finished.
With all this evidence in mind, let’s call it.
Plotting the route
Before we calculate whether Hugh Grant could find Natalie in time, we should figure out when her nephew’s Christmas pageant is taking place. She says the venue is “just round the corner” from her house, so we can estimate that she and her family are allotting no more than 10 minutes to get from door to door. (This feels especially true given how haphazard we later learn them to be.)
No sane and benevolent god would allow a kids’ Christmas play to start much later than 7:00pm on Christmas Eve. After all, the parents have to put the kids to bed and make sure everything is ready for Santa’s arrival. So let’s call the pageant start time 7:00.
Hugh Grant calls for a car at 5:30, after reading the note from Natalie wherein she not-so-subtly confesses her affection. If the family’s leaving their flat at 6:50, he’s got an hour and 20 minutes to find the place.
Now, here’s the rub. Earlier in the film, Natalie told the PM she lives in “Wandsworth—the dodgy end,” a direction Hugh Grant repeats verbatim to his driver. When the motorcade gets to the neighborhood, however, the driver announces they’ve arrived at Harris Street.
So far as I can tell, there’s no Harris Street in Wandsworth. In fact, a search of Google Maps yields two Harris Streets in the whole of London — one on the wrong side of the river, and the other one way too far east to be considered Wandsworth. There is, however, a Poplar Road a stone’s throw from Wandsworth, where the filming took place. We can use that one as a model.
But first, how do we get there? Well, the film shows the motorcade crossing the Chelsea Bridge into Wandsworth. From 10 Downing St. (the PM’s residence) into the heart of Wandsworth (dodgy or not), it takes roughly 25 minutes via the bridge. Tack on another five minutes for assembling the police escort before they hit the road, and you’ve got the approximate time of Hugh Grant’s appearance at 1 “Harris Street” (read: Poplar Road).
Finding the right door
Which brings us to the final part of our mythbusting. The film has Hugh Grant first knocking on a door with address marker “1” on it. There is, in fact, a 1 Poplar Road, so we can assume Hugh starts at the beginning and tries every single door until he hits Natalie’s at 101.
The three pre-Natalie interactions shown are as follows:
- An old woman at 1 Poplar. Total interaction time: 20 seconds.
- Three children at 56 Poplar. He sings a carol for them. Total interaction: 45 seconds.
- Professor Snape’s mistress at 100 Poplar. Total time: 23 seconds.
If we average these interactions to figure out how much time the PM was spending at each door, we get 29.33 seconds. Round that down to 29 and multiply by 100 to figure out how much time it’d take for him to hit 100 houses before finally striking gold at 101.
That’s 2,900 seconds. Convert that to minutes and you get just over 48 minutes, putting him at 6:48. Given that we decided Natalie and her family would be leaving around 6:50, it’s remarkably accurate that when he knocks on her door, her family’s all crowding the entrance, ready to head out.
I really never thought this particular myth would work out. I mean, knocking on a hundred doors in under an hour? Hugh Grant’s certainly no Santa Claus, but he got the job done this time.