Love actually - is Emma Thompson's character overreacting?

On Christmas, I rewatched Love actually, a real classic IMHO. Awesome line-up, heartwarming stories and overall pretty believable human beings.

However, from the first time I watched it, Emma Thompson’s reaction at the end has always bothered me a bit. For those who haven’t seen it,

her husband (Alan Rickman) gives his secretary a gold necklace, while she gets a Joni Mitchell special edition CD. She thought she would get the necklace, because she snuck in her husband’s bag and found it. Understandably she is very upset and confronts him about it, wondering if it’s just a necklace, a necklace and sex or (the worst) a necklace and love. Alan Rickman apologizes profusely and she gives him the silent treatment for the rest of the movie. As far as we know, nothing whatsoever happened between him and the secretary.

She never actually asks him what happened and just she chooses to be the victim and assume the worst. I can see she is hurt, but is her behavior a little martyr-like? It seems to me that she is keeping a facade for the kids, but is basically done with her husband, when they could both just talk it over.

Any thoughts?

No, I don’t think she overreacted. Even if there was never any sex between him and his secretary, the necklace symbolizes an emotional affair at the least. We don’t get to see it, but I think the filmmakers used the shot of her wearing the necklace as a way of telling the audience that the husband and the assistant had an illicit interaction.

Emma Thompson’s character was hurt and betrayed. I thought she handled it very well, actually.

No, I don’t think she overreacted at all. I think Emma did a fantastic job at her role, and the authors as well. Together, they created that rarest of beasts - a realistic character who behaves the way a real person might in such a situation who was still interesting to watch.

I know there are a lot of Jerry Springer fans out there who chant “fight fight” when a woman is confronted with infidelity (or the suggestion thereof) and love the ensuing catfight. I don’t deny there *are *women who are hotblooded and will explode in confrontation. But I suspect there are a lot more women out there who spend 5 minutes sobbing in shock and then get the kid into the lobster suit for the Nativity Play at school.

And yes, sexual intercourse or not, he was cheating on her. He had feelings for a woman who was obviously sexually available to him, he bought her expensive jewelry (while he bought a CD for his wife) did so hiding the purchase from his wife, he planned events so that they could be together… Tell me what monogamous marriage that’s okay in.

Of course, we’re both just speculating, but I don’t see that they had an affair. The secretary is clearly the aggressive force in this (that phone call when he asks her “What do you need?” - Please…). Do you think the filmmakers wanted us to assume an affair when everything else is spelled out pretty clearly?

My problem with her reaction is just that she chooses to swallow her feelings and pretend like nothing’s wrong, while at the same time punishing her husband with contempt.

WhyNot, missed your post while responding.

I’m not saying what Alan Rickman did was okay in any way. Emma Thompson has a definite right to be angry and hurt. Like I said, the fact that people in that film behave like people is the reason I like it so much. I’m also not advocating she berates him in front of the kids and smash flower pots. But from the epilog, it seems to me that she chooses to not react at all and just feel sorry for herself, instead of being proactive and try to fix the situation.

Oh, sure, it might very well be an unproductive reaction, or an unhealthy one for the marriage, long term. Or she might get over it as the pain gradually fades over time and they’ll be more or less okay in the end, possibly falling in real love again when the kids go away to college. Could go many ways.

Maybe I’m not sure what the question in the OP was. I took it with an unwritten “unrealistically” in before overreacting. And no, I don’t think the character’s reaction was unrealistic or unbelievable.

Now maybe the OP was asking if, were that character my girlfriend in real life and she told me her story, would I tell her she’s overreacting to finding a necklace and maybe he got it for his grandmother and she shouldn’t assume her marriage is over and she should talk to him? Well that might be a different discussion. I’m generally a fan of “talk to him about it!” as advice.

Knowing what I know as a viewer, however, I know that she’s NOT wrong, that her husband finds her comfortable and safe but is buying jewelery in secret for a (much younger) woman who wants to screw his brains out. At least. Therefore she’s not overreacting in being upset and thinking he’s got a wandering eye. She’s right. Her reaction might not be productive (except in keeping her kids feeling safe and loved and not destroying their Christmas), but it’s not overreacting. If anything, not talking to him might be underreacting.

This is a classic 40s movie infidelity – a “lust in the heart.” It’s certainly destructive, but a strong marriage can survive.

She doesn’t bring the matter up because she doesn’t want to ruin Christmas for the kids. Sometimes you have to do things like that (I speak from personal experience). Once the pageant is over, she can say what she wants to say. Rickman by that time realized he was a fool. It’s a crisis, but not necessarily the end of the marriage and I think Thompson plays it perfectly.

You’re right, she could deal with it later - the thing is, we see she doesn’t. The epilog is four weeks later and she is still acting in the same way.

Again, I think here initial reaction is justified, it’s good that she wants to save Christmas and not upset the kids. Don’t just continue to bury yourself in self-pity and contempt for your husband.

Do you think she is, though? I didn’t get that at all. I got that she was hurt still, but that she had missed him and was pleased he was back. (Assuming we’re talking about the Heathrow scene now). I didn’t read it as a cold shoulder but as the process of adjustment that I’d expect from a fundamentally sound marriage recovering from a knock. I never read it as her punishing him.

I thought the whole thing was played perfectly - and I don’t agree that she was choosing to ignore his actions. It was more like ‘I know you have done something or at least considered it, and I want you to know I know and that it’s not ok with me’. She isn’t demanding he takes one form of action in particular, and I don’t read it as the end of the marriage either. I’ve also always thought that Rickman hadn’t actually done anything physical with the assistant up to the point his wife found out - it was more a case of him revelling in the attention and flirting with the idea that this younger woman might be willing.

It’s a testament to the (IMO very underrated) writing and performances I think, that we can get such different readings from the scenes.

Yeah. They kissed hello and gave each other a look that indicated there were still problems, but they were working on them. There was a little distance between them, but it had only been a month, after all.

She didn’t sneak into his bag, did she? I thought she saw the necklace by complete innocent accident, no sneaking involved.

Yes. I thought that in the final scene they had managed to resolve the issue.

Look, Rickman says, “I am so in the wrong. The classic fool.” This indicates that he regrets what he was thinking (not doing) and is no longer interested in going on with the proto-affair. Thompson is angry at first, but, ultimately, not only does Rickman stay, but he never really did anything other than fantasize about the other woman. It’s an issue, but not one that cannot be resolved.

IMO the wearing of the necklace is the “huge neon sign” version of subtle symbolism. It’s saying - clear as day to me - that he banged her brains out.

And Emma Thomson’s character is seen first at the moment of discovery, then much later having assimilated the news, obviously having had a confrontation, confession, and at least one horrible painful discussion about separation, when she is still making up her mind whether to forgive him or not.

ETA: to address the OP, no, she’s not overreacting. That’s why it’s realistic.

She catches him in the act with Rowan Atkinson in the jewelry store (hilarious cameo, BTW), then he goes back later without her to buy the necklace, whereupon she goes into his bag and finds what she believes to be her present.

No, he gets away with buying it by the skin of his teeth. I agree about the cameo though.

You guys might be right. I had just never seen it this way. Her less-than-enthusiastic greeting said to me: “I’m still really mad at you for what you did, but I’ll play nice for the sake of the kids.” Next time through I’m going to try a different reading - I really want to like her, after all.


This contributes nothing to this thread, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless. It’s a ‘Love Actually relationship chart’ from Wikipedia.

Part of what makes this a good film, I think, is that so many of us can see it and come up with more than one (I think) valid interpretation of what happened behind the scenes. Without the film feeling preachy or manipulative.

I’ve always thought that the scene where Mia is wearing the jewelry was a sign that that was all she got from the non-relationship with Rickman’s character. But I can see where it could be the neon sign that** jjimm** is reading.

And I agree with those who are interpreting the Heathrow scene as Thompson’s character still adjusting to her new emotional reality.

That is interesting. It misses a few, though - Mia was Natalie’s neighbour; Natalie’s brother was in the same school concert as Harry and Karen’s kids, Daniel’s stepson Sam and some relation of the porn stand-ins (well, they were at the concert); Colin wasn’t the neighbour of Harry but delivered sandwiches there; Colin was also one of the guests at Keira Knightley’s wedding and seemed to be friends with her husband and possibly Mark too. And I think I’ve missed some.

What I found very odd was that they apparently had that enormous school concert on Christmas Day.

Someone pointed out in a thread about this movie awhile back that Emma Thompson’s character was always frumpy until after the incident. At the airport scene, she’s all made up and fashionable, as though she changed to be more appealing to her husband or something. I don’t know if this is an accurate assessment, but it is another instance of being able to interpret different meanings to different actions.