FILM / Reviews: Something old, something new: Sheila Johnston on Four Weddings and a Funeral, the Britcom that had America rolling down the aisles; plus round-up

Overhyped and over-praised over there? Four Weddings and a Funeral (15) opens here garlanded with praise from America, and it has been going great guns for a low-budget British picture. The production team has conjured up impressive quantities of flowers on straitened means (US critics single out the hats for special distinction) and, while the film is simply shot - lots of tight close-ups - the director, Mike Newell, also makes a virtue out of the necessity: the first wedding, at which the leading players are introduced, is filmed as a series of loosely connected brief impressions and pratfalls, a little like a high-class clip from You've Been Framed. Most of all, it is a diverting, crowd-pleasing romantic comedy, and, as last year's thin track record in this department shows, this is not an achievement to sniff at.

Scripted by Richard Curtis, best known here for the Blackadder series, Weddings has one gimmick, or narrative conceit: it takes place almost entirely at big ceremonial occasions. Here, over the course of about 18 months, a small knot of friends aged around 30 - congenital singles, for whom a marriage proposal is only tolerable as a way out of an embarrassing social situation - watch each other gradually disappear into the jaws of matrimony. Several, however, are resolved to slip the trap, notably Charles (Hugh Grant), a charming, slightly bumbling batchelor, even as they secretly long to yield to it. For Charles, the trap is finally primed when he catches sight of an elegant American (Andie MacDowell) across a crowded pew.

The film bills itself as a 'radical romantic comedy' but it's old-fashioned in its essence, and highly conservative: there will certainly be some British viewers who find the languid mating rites of the moneyed upper-middle classes less than compulsive (Newell took a rather more jaundiced view of them in his best early film, Dance with a Stranger). Since its characters are only ever seen at play, it's in one sense unreasonable to expect to see them working, or waiting for a bus, or walking the dog. But the film's only interlude, a rare wedding-less Saturday, is wasted on a silly, Pretty Woman-ly caper in which MacDowell drags Grant along to a bridal store and goofs around modelling wedding gowns.

And they do seem an uncommonly privileged, well-heeled, cocooned lot, with the vaguest of jobs: one character is 'only' the seventh-richest man in England; another owns half of Scotland and does something in politics (there's nothing on his wedding list much under a grand); and a gag in the closing credits assumes it's well within the bounds of credibility that one of the friends will marry major royalty. There are mavericks among them - Grant's punky flatmate, Scarlett, and a gay couple who are set apart from the rest by their class as well as their sexuality: one of them, it emerges, is of rather humble origins (and his funeral, at a drab industrial housing estate, affords us a glimpse of the movie's single black face).

But these characters are shadowy - Scarlett's fling with a tall handsome Texan is the flimsiest affair in the film. And, while the gay men are presented throughout as the film's only ideal match, they're barely seen together (the story is about how people pair off; it's not interested in established couples). They're just a catalyst, and always slightly outside the nuptial rejoicing: one, the exuberant Gareth (Simon Callow), instructs everybody to 'go forth and conjugate' before speedily expiring - he always liked to joke that he preferred funerals because they were ceremonies he had a chance of being involved in. His death is the dark moment which guides the others towards their respective happy ends.

So could all that fuss across the pond be just a severe attack of anglophilia? The film's so-British leading man has undoubtedly gone down a storm with American critics and so he should: Grant is good, his comic timing and detail immaculate. But it is also a familiar performance - remember his silly ass in Polanski's Bitter Moon? On the present evidence, it must be said, Grant's range is a tad limited and Weddings is least convincing when it tries to hint at his character's shallow, selfish side. He may have been compared to Grant, Cary, but he doesn't have his namesake's cruel, perverse streak and it's a stretch to imagine him in, say, Suspicion, Notorious or North by Northwest.

Grant's success may be a case of wimp power - a backlash against the athletic action hero (too, too Eighties): the film- going public has pigged out, perhaps, on beefcake and hungers for a low-protein leading man, which is why Tom Hanks is also becoming a major star. But, more likely, American audiences have fallen, again, for that well-bred English repression. In one scene, MacDowell and Grant compare sexual experiences. She rattles through several dozen lovers, with thumbnail sketches (lover No 22 kept falling asleep on the job: it was, she explains needlessly, her first year in England). Grant has been presented as an inveterate womaniser but can only rustle up nine. He's the buttoned-up Brit who must be seduced by a brash, rapacious American. It's the same scenario that helped make A Fish Called Wanda a US hit.

Grant's character isn't only ineffectual physically: he is also a wash-out with words, either blurting out too much - he has a reputation for social gaffes - or too little. In crisis, he will resort to expletive- heavy spluttering (it will be intriguing to see the airline or television versions of Four Weddings). He's not much of a one for soul-baring: when he says 'I do' to the vicar, it's in answer to the question, 'Do you love someone else?' When pushed beyond endurance to declare himself, he will resort to the immortal words of David Cassidy, 'I think I love you.'

He's not the only one - later, another avowal, by Callow's lover at his partner's funeral, borrows from W H Auden and, curiously, suggests it's easier to articulate these things when one's lover is dead. In fact the single figure who stands aside from the roundelay, and who keeps his ironic distance is Grant's brother (David Bower), a deaf-mute: he's denied access to spoken language (he communicates with his brother by signing), but in the film this is also a kind of liberation which enables him uninhibitedly to express his mind. He's the only character for whom the course of true love runs smooth, and the only one who can set his brother's straight by responding in an unusual manner at the final wedding to the standard exhortation 'speak now or forever hold your peace'. It's rare to see in a British film: a dramatic point that doesn't hinge on dialogue. Four Weddings and a Funeral is a lightweight affair, but this is one of several fine touches that make it, on the whole, a cause for celebration rather than for mourning.

(Photographs omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own