All I want for Christmas, is Hugh.

Hugh Grant
Hugh Grant

I grew up with Hugh Grant. Not literally of course. To be fair he only really came to my attention in my early twenties, as Clive in the Film ‘Maurice‘. His role in the E.M. Forster classic was very different from his roles in most films. The film was ahead of it’s time and I remember finding it quite challenging when I first saw it.

These days if you think about Hugh Grant, you are far more likely to think of him in his blockbusting comedy successes such as ‘About a Boy’, ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, ‘Notting Hill’, ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ and, well, ‘Love Actually’, actually. I don’t know how Hugh Grant feels about that, but I’m fine with it. I love, Love Actually, actually.

‘Love Actually’ has to be, for me, my favourite Christmas film. As the days grow shorter, colder and damper, and my mind turns towards Christmas, I almost inevitably will occasionally find myself thinking of that film. It’s true I could watch it at any kind of year, but I get the warmest, fuzziest feeling in late December. Love Actually is a mince pie for the mind.

If you haven’t seen it, it is a film of multiple story lines, written by the genius of comedy, and human drama, Richard Curtis. Richard wrote the the script of many of Hugh’s films, as well as TV classics such as ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ and ‘Black Adder’. In fact my real hero, in terms of Christmas films is really Richard Curtis, but the image I have in my head when I think of them is Hugh.

Each story line intertwines with the others. Touching, poignant and sometimes painful. The film has a happy feel about it, but not all of the stories reach a fully positive resolution. It is a film to make you laugh, cry and reflect on your own life.

Certain scenes that stick in my mind. There is the one where Rowan Atkinson, as a shop keeper, is makng an elaborate performance of gift wrapping an item of jewellery in a store. There is the agonising scene of a young woman visiting her brother in a mental hospital. And perhaps my favourite – the part where Hugh Grant as a Blair-like Prime Minister, dances alone on the stairs of 10 Downing Street. I’ve been up and down those stairs a few times and either it is the real thing, or an excellent recreation of them. Imagine our current prime minister doing the same thing!

Why am I writing about Hugh Grant in a therapy and coaching blog?

This year, in the pandemic. Christmas is going to be very different for many us. Most of us will be having a much quieter time of it. At most we will meet up with a couple of other families. For many we may not see anyone at all, beyond our immediate household – if we have a household.

Christmas will still be a good time for some of us all the same, and for others it may be less appealing. It all depends on two things – our circumstances, and our mental attitude to those circumstances.

As Viktor Frankl says: ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’

The thing about ‘Love Actually‘ and other films like it, is that for that short period when you are watching it, your mind is no longer in your experience, but in the experiences of the people of the film. While you are absorbed in the romance, the midlife crises and the childhood crushes of the story, you are living entirely in your mind and the mind of the person who created those stories. When you are living inside the story of others, it gives you a chance to forget your own problems.

Escapism is sometimes denegrated. ‘Face up to reality’. ‘Suck it up’, people say. But our minds need a break from all this reality I think. Films, books, Art, Music – all of these things make our lives more bearable. Sometimes now, when I watch television I am slightly taken aback by how close everybody is! I am almost shocked when lovers kiss, or strangers hug because it has become so alien to us right now. We need to remember that these things exist. A hug in the mind is still a hug, and when we experience it, even on the screen it reminds us of that aspect of our humanity, which will return to us one day.

So if you can’t spend Christmas with your loved ones. Spend it with your imagined loved ones. Watch ‘Love Actually‘ watch ‘Miracle on 34th Street‘, watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘ and ‘White Christmas‘ and ‘A Christmas Carol‘. Not to forget your problems, but to remember what is good and beautiful in our world.

Robert Sanders is a therapist and life coach, supporting people in their present and helping them create their future.