Made here. Big over there: The word from Houston: 'If you've ever thought, gee I love British humour, this is as good as it gets.' Sheila Johnston on a home-grown US hit

Let us start with some statistics. Four Weddings and a Funeral cost pounds 3.75m. It was shot in 36 days. Many of the film-makers deferred 'large chunks' of their salaries, according to the writer, Richard Curtis. Corners were cut, he says: 'For instance, four weeks before filming we realised we couldn't afford Scotland, so we had to find Scotland outside Woking. We had to find somewhere with heather. After the film was over the cameraman took a camera on his holiday and got a shot of the lake, and sent it back down to be put into the edit. This was rather than take an entire crew all the way to Scotland and spending three days waiting for the weather. There was not one night in a hotel for anybody.' Is it necessary to add that Four Weddings and a Funeral is a British picture?

Now for some brighter figures. Four Weddings has grossed over dollars 20m in seven weeks of release in America, and shows no signs of stumbling: last week it briefly nudged into first place at the box- office. It's the biggest hit from Blighty since A Fish Called Wanda topped the US charts in 1988.

And the critics over there seem to have been thoroughly charmed. 'A champagne bubble of a movie,' said the San Francisco Chronicle. The New York Times pronounced it 'elegant, festive and very, very funny'. For the Houston Chronicle it was 'achingly funny and sweet . . . If you've ever thought to yourself, gee I love British humour, this is as good as it gets.' The Washington Post called it 'an English lark full of lovely hats and pretty Brits' and the Chicago Tribune put it in a class with The Philadelphia Story. 'Tasty, sophisticated romp . . . The kind of sly pleasure only British comedy seems to provide,' said the Los Angeles Times. A diligent trawl through our database of American press cuttings failed to turn up a single brickbat.

All this said, and before we get too excited, it must also be noted that the current US box-office is way down on the previous year. There are no other heavyweight contenders around; indeed the distributors moved Four Wedding's release forward a month to hop into the vacuum. It has been skilfully and aggressively marketed by the distributors, the independent company Gramercy Pictures.

It belongs to a lucrative but neglected genre, the elusive 'date movie': Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, Simon Callow and others play the members of a sophisticated, moneyed set who keep meeting at each other's weddings. It speaks to thirtysomething singles: Curtis, 36 (and unmarried), started working on the script four years ago when he looked through his address book and discovered that he attended 67 weddings within a little more than a decade. And there hasn't been a decent date movie since Sleepless in Seattle.

At first it was viewed with suspicion, recalls the producer Duncan Kenworthy. 'Gramercy wanted to change the title. They said, 'Research shows that films with 'wedding' in the title do badly.' I take that with a pinch of salt. When someone says 'research shows' it usually means they've asked around the office. But it's true that Father of the Bride and Altman's A Wedding did badly; even The Wedding Banquet didn't break out of the arthouses. So we said, 'If you can find a better title, we'll go with it.' They came up with about a thousand variants.' These included Skulking Around, Tales of True Love and Near Misses and Loitering in Sacred Places. It was decided to stick with the original idea.

The bookers were leery too, says Russell Schwartz, the president of Gramercy. 'A few exhibitors in Texas, when they first saw the picture, said would we send them a subtitled version? Then they asked if we were going to do a remake with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. But now I look at the numbers in Texas, and they are terrific.'

And, as a matter of fact, it's likely that much of the film's success is due to its exotic appeal: English independent movies do better in America, and vice versa. That factor made Enchanted April (which, like Four Weddings, was directed by Mike Newell) and The Crying Game much bigger hits in the US than in Britain, while the American Reservoir Dogs did far better here than on its home turf.

That's the view of Graham Fuller, the executive editor of Interview magazine, a film writer and a long-time Englishman in New York. 'America has an obsession with the English class system. It throws up all the stereotypes they find roundly appealing, because it represents culture, gentility. And also repression: Hugh Grant always plays sexually repressed characters. Americans love that sort of thing - in cinema, they have a fascination with upper-class ladies and barrow-boys: Merchant-Ivory on the one hand, Kureishi and Leigh on the other.'

Grant, who has been working like a trouper on the promotional beat, is Four Wedding's main man. Helped by the accident of his surname, he is being widely touted as the new Cary Grant. 'He is of the same school, although he doesn't resemble him verbally or physically,' says Oscar Moore, the editor of Screen International. 'He's immensely flirtatious, both in real life and on screen - his flirtatiousness is actually more attractive on screen that it is in life. He has a quiet charisma.'

And Grant also stars in two other films currently on American release: Polanski's Bitter Moon and John Duigan's Sirens. 'In all of them he plays an upper middle- class Englishman with twitty manners,' Fuller says. 'Although he's very engaging too, of course.' Two sample scenes: in a bar, Grant and MacDowell are listing previous lovers. She gets up to 33, and counting. He stops at nine. At one of the weddings all the women on Grant's table are his ex-girlfriends. They discuss him, to his vast embarrassment.

All of which begs one big question: will British audiences buy into the exotic upper-class Englishness too? 'I'm extremely anxious about how the film will be received in the UK because anything could happen,' Kenworthy says. 'It was certainly my preference that it open in America first: if it comes here without the US imprint, people tend to be sceptical of it as a serious film. But of course there is also the element that the American success can work against us. The British may feel they're being manipulated into seeing a film that other people say is good. I hope they make their own minds up.'

The campaign here will be slightly different, he says. In the US Four Weddings was marketed primarily as a romantic comedy. In Britain, mindful of the film's Blackadder pedigree (by way of Richard Curtis, who wrote the series, and Rowan Atkinson, who here plays a small role as a Malapropian vicar) the emphasis will be on the broader comic elements.

'In America Four Weddings is perceived as very realistic. When we saw that in the test screening results, we scratched our heads a bit, but compared to the studio comedies I suppose it is. But in Britain it may be seen as a comedy about people who are too rich: one character is the seventh richest man in England. We never see them working - who cares about them?' It is the film's conceit to be set almost entirely at ceremonial occasions and never to show anyone working or performing chores of everyday life.

'Hugh's character is middle- class, and we wanted to make it clear that some of the characters are self-made; not all of them lead charmed lives,' Kenworthy adds. He is expecting the tabloids to love the film, but the broadsheets to 'tread carefully'.

This is Oscar Moore's prognosis: 'I would hope that it is very successful, but I think it's not going to find a major British public. It will tap into the Merchant-Ivory audience: I've already had people asking me about it who only go to the cinema when Remains of the Day is on - people who won't go to see a film unless there's a house in it that they recognise. But the sort of viewers who liked Naked will probably be left cold.'

'Four Weddings and a Funeral' opens on 13 May

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen