We all suffer from a collective nostalgia when it comes to Richard Curtis films. Love Actually is a Christmas classic – despite some of the creepier story lines – and the portrayal of London’s upper middle classes being in and out of love in the Christmas season makes it a perfect lazy weekend film, or something to flick on in the background while you’re wrapping presents. Notting Hill – a film I would argue is much better than the previous film – rests on the premise of Hugh Grant being able to own a house in Notting Hill on a bookshop salary, which was just as implausible in 1999 as it is now. But still, it’s a classic rom-com which manages to balance the line between saccharine and sarcastic and still come out with a happy ending.
All this was in my mind as I sat down to watch Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), the first film written by Richard Curtis and directed by Mike Newell staring a young Hugh Grant, Kristin Scott Thomas and Andie MacDowell among a whole cast of well-known British acting talent. The plot follows the premise of that time of your life when there is a wedding every month, you get dressed up in your finest, sip the same drinks and have the same conversations with the same people.
Charles is unlucky in love, with a string of girlfriends left in his wake, when he meets the impossibly cool and aloof Carrie, an American who is at the fringes of his social circle and promptly falls in love with her. After a night together, he is brought back to reality when she announces her engagement to an older, and obnoxiously wealthy man called – what else – Sir Hamish Banks.
There are several that issues that I have with Four Weddings.
Firstly, no one’s decisions are ever fully explored. Why does Carrie marry Banks? Following that, why does she never get back in contact with Charles? And why does Charles nearly marry Henrietta, a ex-girlfriend he had spent the majority of the film avoiding? It’s a simply lack of interest, of any discernible motives or emotions that the characters display which makes the plot fall flat. Why should I care about these people? Why should I spend two hours of my life with them?
The over-riding answer to this seems to be: because they’re posh and awkward, and aren’t they all so terribly British? I’m not saying that I went into the film expecting a vigorous analysis of class dynamics in Britain in the final years of the twentieth century, but still. Everyone in the film has cut-glass accents, thinks nothing of rocking up to a wedding a huge stately home and has very few other problems to deal with.
The only indication of a world outside of this middle-class bubble is when the weddings are interrupted by the eponymous funeral. The camera zooms out to reveal a normal looking housing estate, before moving to a church situated right next to a industrial plant. As the funeral cars depart from the church Newell’s camera sits close to the ground and uses a static shot to capture both the church tower and the chimney that billows out smoke over the heads of the mourners. All the meanwhile, crows call out miserably in the background. Because of course they do.
It’s meant as a contrast to the joy and celebration of the weddings that take place on beautiful sunny days, in splendid churches and country homes, but it’s so blinding shoved down your throat you almost feel like shouting “Enough! Ok, I get it!”. At this point it’s just a lazy short hand.
In the final act of the film, when Carrie simpers out “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.” while simultaneously being soaked through at least three layers of clothing and in serious danger of catching pneumonia, I had had enough.
Four Weddings and a Funeral is a film that trades on stereotypes of being (upper-middle class, privately educated) British that exists only imagination of film producers and the halls of the British government. Rather than bringing anything original or interesting to the table, it simply relies on flat characters and awkward and stilted dialogue.
Funnily enough, I wouldn’t recommend it.