Four Weddings and a Funeral
English Title: Four Weddings and a Funeral
Country of Origin: Britain
Studio: Polygram, Channel 4, Working Title/Channel 4
Director: Mike Newell
Producer(s): Duncan Kenworthy
Screenplay: Richard Curtis
Cinematographer: Michael Coulter
Editor: Jon Gregory
Runtime: 117 minutes
Charles is constantly invited to weddings, although he cannot ever see himself as a willing groom. That is, until he meets an American guest named Carrie at the film’s first wedding and falls instantly in love. As Carrie returns to America, they both feel something of a missed opportunity. Three months later Charles again encounters Carrie at a wedding, although this time she is engaged to another man. After meeting a host of ex-girlfriends, and the death of a close friend, Charles is forced to re-think his own stance on marriage and commitment, fearing he has let the perfect woman pass him by. As Carrie's marriage looms, Charles becomes her close friend but resolves to win her over indefinitely.
Although British television-comedy writer Richard Curtis had already penned a film comedy prior to 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral, in the form of The Tall Guy (Mel Smith, 1989), it was with this second film that he established his own screen-writing credentials. Directed by Mike Newell, Four Weddings also established the lucrative crossover potential for a British domestic comedy overseas, particularly in America where the film was a surprise hit. Not only did it enable Curtis to make a career out of similar romantic comedies, such as Notting Hill (Roger Michell, 1999), Bridget Jones’s Diary (Sharon Maguire, 2001) and Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003), it also led to similar British films – often featuring American stars – aimed at international audiences, such as Sliding Doors (Peter Howitt, 1998).
However, it should not be considered surprising that Four Weddings proved such a saleable commodity overseas. Although its setting is contemporary, the film’s depiction of Britishness is consistent with that of British cinema’s most internationally-popular genre: the heritage drama. Charles (Hugh Grant) and his group of friends are, for the most part, foppish public school graduates, with one of their number among the richest men in England. Every occasion they are invited to (except the funeral) takes place in the most sumptuous of country homes and attended by members of the aristocracy.
Almost all of the film’s humour relates either to British attitudes towards sex (in one scene Charles is trapped in a cupboard and forced to listen to some excruciatingly embarrassing love making), or to social and class observational comedy (Charles is consistently seated next to people he would rather avoid, including a dotty, hard-of-hearing old relatives and a series of ex-girlfriends). However, these potentially-awkward scenes avoid schadenfreude, with laughs being light-hearted and palatable, derived from the ‘wacky’ wedding guests. Much of Four Weddings is an affectionate send-up of Britishness in the form of upper-class affectation, custom and speech, but it has a celebratory manner. Hugh Grant portrays all the stuffiness and strained emotion of the archetypal Englishman with amiable perfection in a role that firmly established his screen persona as a loveable fop.
Unlike some of Curtis’ later work – which could just as easily be set in America – Four Weddings feels evocative of certain specifically-British sensibilities. Perhaps credit can go to Mike Newell for many of the film’s more nuanced moments, though he frequently stoops to cliché at other points – particularly the many countryside establishing shots, which resemble the kitsch art on biscuit tins. Four Weddings also boasts likeable supporting performances from Simon Callow, James Fleet and John Hannah which, along with the occasional gentle laugh and the good-natured spirit of the piece, make it an endearing film, in spite of what could be seen as its overbearing tweeness.
Author of this review: Robert Beames
Peer reviewer: Robert Beames