‘IN ENGLAND AT CHRISTMAS IT’S ME AND THE QUEEN’
BILL NIGHY SPEAKS OF HIS X’MAS FILM LOVE ACTUALLY’S ENDURING APPEAL AS HE PROMOTES HIS DIFF MOVIE THEIR FINEST
THE MINUTE THE credits rolled during its premiere just before Christmas 2003, England welcomed to the fold a new cultural icon. It wasn’t Martine McCutcheon who played the loveable tea lady, nor was it the unlucky in love writer played by Colin Firth (he’d have to wait another seven years to play George VI for that honour to be bestowed). No, it was the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards hybrid, ex-rocker Billy Mack striving for a ‘comeback at any cost’ with his sellout cover single of pop classic Love is All Around. Arise, national treasure, Bill Nighy.
Since 2003, he and his film Love Actually have been ushered into our houses round about the same time each year – every time affirming Christmas Day and the holiday spirit.
“In England at Christmas it’s me and the queen,” Nighy proclaimed as we met him at the Dubai International Film Festival where his latest work, Their Finest is currently showing. “You get the queen’s speech and then you get me in lycra trousers!” Does that sit comfortably? “I can feel nothing but gratitude for that particular phenomenon. It
made lots of other things possible. It’s a good thing in the world. It’s a sweet movie.”
Set in World War II, Their Finest, which comes to DIFF, is a period rom-com centring on two propaganda film writers played by Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin. Nighy plays the pompous British actor charged with starring in the movie to raise the Blitzed Brits’ hopes. What is delivered is a typically astute performance from Nighy, providing much of the comic relief and once again –despite being a supporting character - standing out as the picture’s main attraction.
“I love the film within the film,” Nighy said about Their Finest. “I love that colour. We had a huge water tank like they do on big movies,” he said referencing a scene where the cast is stranded at sea. “Once you got in that you realise you’re in the movies. We had tremendous fun.”
Although set over 70 years ago, the film touches upon themes discussed to this day. Obviously the propaganda element is pertinent given the current debate on the proliferation of false news, but scenes also touch upon gender equality. Arterton’s character, when she is being interviewed for the screenwriter’s position is told, ‘obviously you can’t be paid as much as the chaps.’
This highlighting of the problem was a factor in Nighy making the picture.
“On our way to total civilisation, and you’ll observe there’s a long way to go yet, is total gender equality. That’s the most civilised you can get,” he said. “You can judge a society on it. We have a long way to go, speaking as an Englishman. Great progress has been made, but not enough. I want to try and be useful in that area. I’ve worked for many female directors. As Martin Amis says it’s men getting away with everything… and we have to get rid of that b ******* for the betterment of the human race.”
favourite film? “Punch-Drunk Love. I think the performances are great and the love story is very charming.”
Nighy as Billy Mack in Love Actually, a Christmas staple in British households along with a three o’clock televised address from Queen Elizabeth II