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Reviews: Movies - LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED; LOVE ACTUALLY (15).

Byline: QUENTIN FALK

CHRISTMAS comes early with this warm-hearted all-star Brit flick. But like the impending season of good cheer it proves to be a typical mixture of real treats, a few tears, some big laughs and throwaway tat.

There are no fewer than nine interconnected love stories wrapped up in this huge glossy cracker written and directed by Richard Curtis, who created blockbuster hits Four Weddings And A Funeral and Notting Hill.

And those credits should give you some idea of the familiar, sometimes overfamilar, style of romance and comedy you can expect with, for example, Hugh Grant as a Blair-lite bachelor PM falling for adorable No.10 tea lady Martine McCutcheon. Happily there are enough other superior and more quick-witted plot distractions to divert us from Grant's predictably floppy-haired antics although Martine proves a big screen natural.

You won't be able to resist hilarious Bill Nighy as ageing rock star Billy Mack, supported by his long-suffering manager (Gregor Fisher), trying to make a comeback with his catchpenny Yule version of Love Is All Around.

Then there's Martin Freeman (from The Office) and Joanna Page as film stand-ins who discover a deeper bond while working straightfaced on an outrageously raunchy porn movie.

But it's probably the women who really steal the show. Laura Linney is heartbreakingly good as her hopes of sex are dashed by a dark family secret.

Emma Thompson is equally touching as a middle aged posh housewife whose distracted husband (Alan Rickman) may be having an affair with the office vamp (Heike Makatsch).

There's even budding love in subtitles as forlorn writer Colin Firth rediscovers passion thanks to his lovely Portuguese cleaning lady (Lucia Moniz).

As you laugh, cry and perhaps even groan you just know that you are being shamelessly manipulated as Curtis expertly pulls our strings with the skill of a master puppeteer.

135 mins

-OPENS in London tomorrow and nationwide next Friday (November 21).

CAPTION(S):

LOVE IN THE BLAIR: PM Hugh and No.10 tea lady Martine get together
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 16, 2003
Words:337
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